The middle mile
Sometimes winning involves simply forcing another player to react to what you might be doing.
At Monday’s marathon meeting of the Taylor County Board one of the more interesting reports was from supervisor Mike Bub.
Bub updated board members on the ongoing work of the county’s broadband committee. The goal of the committee is to have broadband internet access available to everyone in the county.
The county is patterning this effort on the rural electrifi cation efforts of the early 20th century which saw the start of many rural electric cooperatives. The goal of cooperatives to provide a needed service to the member/ owners rather than in turning a profit for investors.
A century ago, the investor-owned electric companies were happy to install and maintain power lines, provided they could turn a profit doing so. The same thing is happening today with over-reliance on investor-owned telecommunications companies being slow to build the basic infrastructure needed to allow the expansion of broadband internet access.
Affordable high speed internet is the electric power of the 21st century. Just as expanding the electric grid sparked an explosion in commerce and led to the creation of new industries, so too will the expansion of high speed internet into rural areas lead to expanded economic growth.
The county’s first idea had been to partner with an internet service provider and secure grant funding to build the infrastructure needed to bring affordable options to residents. It is that basic infrastructure that is the most costly to install but without which there can be no expansion.
As the committee has worked through the process the goal of providing access to high speed internet has remained unchanged but they have continued to refine how this could take place.
The newest plan, which appears to be the most financially feasible one for the county, involves building the “middle mile” of infrastructure to connect the county with outside hubs and a create a grid in the county. Providers would then use this grid to offer service to residents in a variety of different ways. The potential bandwidth of the fiber optic cable is large enough to allow access to multiple providers, since the providers would each be leasing space on the line from the county this would increase the potential revenue stream that would payback the cost of installing the equipment.
An interesting consequence of the county’s activities has been for Spectrum and TDS Telecom to step up their game as far as upgrading systems and offering competitive plans. These companies have been the dominant players in local internet access for many years but have been somewhat glacial in their pace to expand high speed internet into rural portions of the county.
As any pet owner can tell you, nothing gets a finicky dog to want to eat their dinner faster than having a second dog try to take it from them.
If the threat that the county may start installing fiber optic lines is enough kick-start investment by private sector companies, then that counts as a win for the goal of expanding service in the county.
Competition is good for consumers and good for industry. Yes, the established companies may have eventually gotten around to making an investment in the county, but if the fear of competition from the county is spurring them into acting now, than the county needs to keep up the good work.
Brian Wilson is News Editor at The Star News.