Municipalities, politicians and financial market experts see that public funding for municipal broadband is both a good decision -- and a good investment, according to a municipal bond industry trade publication.
Across the country, hundreds of municipalities have funded municipal broadband networks by issuing bonds. These networks have driven increased business interests in towns like Chattanoogah, where the increased internet speeds increased opportunities for small businesses.
“The build-out is happening and some munis are taking it on themselves because just like they would widen their roads through their town or provide connectivity for public service,” said John Medina, vice president senior credit officer at Moody's Investors Service. “This is the transportation of today.”
Of course, there are reasons beyond the financial to support municipal broadband: even in wealthy cities, there are ongoing concerns about disparities in equitable access to high speed broadband networks. Cambridge has accepted this disparity and invested in studying the digital divide -- but has so far failed to engage with the need to move forward on municipal broadband.
“The growing interest in publicly financing broadband infrastructure or executing public capital expenditures is driven by a mix of both the persistent digital divide and a feeling of local governments wanting to take their digital economic prospects into their own hands,” said Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program.
When finances are brought up, there has always been some concern over the few cases of broadband projects that didn't succeed. In a small number of early adopter cities, political impediments thrown in the way of municipal broadband at the behest of incumbents have harmed the short term success. The most commonly cited case of this is Burlington, Vermont, which suffered credit downgrades after an early failed partnership around telecom services. However, even in that one case that so many think of, the project eventually turned around and recovered:
"Burlington received a two-notch credit upgrade from Moody’s on Wednesday, citing strong fund balance levels and elimination of risks from debt tied to a past partnership with Burlington Telecom. Moody’s action puts Burlington at the same rating it held prior to facing six bond downgrades from 2010 to 2012 while facing a financial crisis driven by troubles with the city-run telecom enterprise."
At this point, with hundreds of cities across the country having identified municipal broadband as a strong investment, and more than a decade of successful builds across the country, there's no reason to believe that a municipal broadband would be anything but upside for a community in the long term.
Unfortunately, Cambridge has so far chosen not to join the movement. Our City Manager continues to claim without evidence that such an investment would bankrupt the city. With such strong evidence to the contrary, it is hard to imagine any path that would produce such a result. If you believe Cambridge should move forward with a municipal broadband feasibility study so that we can be one of the growing number of communities nationwide that has these opportunities, now is the time to sign our petition and tell the City Manager to move forward on municipal broadband.