Sunday, July 05, 2015

Gigabit Internet access is (almost) free for ten years in North Kansas City

As some of you may already know, I'm a big, big fan of community broadband networks. Community broadband networks come in many forms, but generally, they are owned by a local municipality, usually a city or a small town cooperative. The vast majority of community broadband networks outperform legacy monopoly operators on both price and performance. To put it differently, Comcast, Time-Warner, ATT and Verizon are not the only game in town in cities with municipal broadband.

Community broadband networks arise from the lack of service provided by the legacy monopoly operators. Small communities from around the country, stuck with slow, unreliable access, begged the big 4 and a few more for better service, with higher speeds and better reliability. When the incumbents ignored the requests or failed to deliver, the local government took matters into their own hands to find a way to finance a fiber network for their citizens.

In almost every case (more than 450 cities and towns around the country) where there is community broadband, there is economic growth. There is a draw of business to the community. Jobs are created. Money starts to move and the people connected to that network get some relief from the gnawing sense of being left behind.

Today, I want to share with you a development from North Kansas City. I learned about it from the Community Broadband Networks website, the place where I go to get the news about community broadband. NKC happens to be next to Kansas City, where Google Fiber first opened shop. Google made big news by offering a gig for $70 a month plus a reasonable installation fee a couple years ago. Google Fiber is now in a handful of cities across the country, but they have no plans to build out in North Kansas City. Why not?

Because a few years ago, that city laid their own fiber network in the ground. But once they had their fiber network in the ground, they did not have the internet connection to deliver service to their residents and businesses. Along comes Data Shack, a dedicated hosting provider.

A hosting provider is someone who will host your website, or your server if you want to use your own hardware. A hosting provider takes care of the power and connectivity required to keep your business on the web alive. They ensure continuity of service in a way that most of us in small business or even a large business can't do in a cost effective manner, for a fee.

DataShack and the City of North Kansas have created LinkCity, an entity that offers internet access over a municipal network to business and residents alike. Here's the kicker: residents get gigabit access for $300 for installation and $0 monthly charges for 10 years. No one else that I know is doing that. You'd think that would be big news, but Community Broadband Networks broke the story first as far as I know.

The circumstances and business environment in NKC seem to be hard to reproduce anywhere else, but this network shows us what is possible. It shows us that business service revenue can support free residential internet access on a municipal network and it represents a natural synergy between business and consumers.

Business is generated when people have access to the internet. The money that people aren't spending on their internet access is spent at local businesses. For a family that might be paying nearly $200 a month for triple play (phone, cable and internet), that can translate into a nice dividend for the local economy. Community broadband networks are about just that - keeping the money in the local economy and growing jobs in our hometown.

When I first read the story I didn't think it was really possible. So I listened to the interview and it all made sense. Not every community can do this, but now we can see what is possible. Now we can see what our leaders aren't telling us about how internet access can be deployed and financed. Now we can see internet access as a true utility.
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