Originally published: February 7, 2011
Last updated: February 7, 2011 - 9:23pm
[Commentary] Salisbury (NC) won the uphill fight for broadband that’s 100 percent community-owned because they faced and answered that question — if not us, who? — by pushing forward when there were just a couple of community networks in the state. Wilson (NC) has one, and it’s city-owned too. Asheville has another, which is run by a community nonprofit.
Thanks in large part to the broadband stimulus and inspiration from Google’s gigabit network contest, dozens of communities are moving this ball forward because they realize broadband has clearly transformed from a “nice to have” to a “need to have.” The technology is a game changer in economic development, health-care service delivery and other vital areas of a community’s existence. It’s time that plenty more communities face the question, “If not us, who?” You don't have to be the network’s sole owner, though there is much to be said for that. And if you do own it, you don't have to provide services on the network. There are many business models that might best suit a community’s needs and politics. However, the community should step up and take charge of the process of deciding how to bring broadband to constituents when no one else will, or determining if current services are insufficient to meet current and future needs. Not all of the actions need to be local. Though it may seem daunting, keep tabs on broadband developments at the national level, and whenever possible, play an active role in developments there.
The biggie on deck this week is the Federal Communications Commission’s plan for Universal Service Fund (USF) reform. This affects nearly all constituents one way or another. There’s an estimated $4 billion per year likely to be going to broadband deployment efforts as a result of changes to the USF. We all pay into the USF via our phone bills, and some of that money could find its way to your community to deliver broadband. The pessimistic viewpoint is that much of this money will go to large national telcos and cable companies that deliver broadband that won't meet communities’ long-term needs.
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