But let’s look at what we’re talking about. (That’s an out of date map on muni broadband controversies, at right.)
The plain fact is that the costs of Internet bandwidth are undergoing compression. They are going down. The per-bit costs of running fiber continue to decline. The per-bit costs of radios keeps going down.
The Bells and cable operators are defying this market gravity. They are doing it by acting as monopolies, demanding monopoly rents from everyone — users, sites, and (now) extra-popular sites. That’s what the network neutrality debate is about.
Now understand the risk. You’re building infrastructure whose value will decline. This is not like building sewers (whose value remains for decades) or electricity, or even an old-fashioned "phone" network.
The radios a city puts in this year will have become worthless in three years. A fiber build which a city undertakes today will be obsolete in five years.
So what should be done?
Hire an operator. Make sure your contracts are explicit, that the capital costs you sink into the system now much be recouped (and re-invested) as the system ages. Then assure that the operator is willing to sell bandwidth to all comers, essentially at cost (and their management costs are rolled into the contract).
In other words, you don’t let the municipal system become a monopoly. You maintain it as infrastructure, and you operate it as infrastructure that must be replaced regularly.
Trouble is, there is no historical model for this kind of thing. Governments understand capital projects. Corporations understand the idea of continual investment, even shared investment.
It’s on subjects like this that Open Source Politics comes to
the rescue. (The author of another myth, the Myth of Union, is at left.) A new template for understanding vexing problems, Open
Source Politics would understand the need for cooperation, building
this new infrastructure on the model of a food co-op. An operator
acting on a non-profit basis would also enable everyone else in the
market to act as market participants — adding value as they see fit,
competing on price and features.
That’s how Open Source works. It’s not communism. It’s a business
model in which the essentials are shared (and their definition
continually expands, slowly) while competition takes place on higher
levels. Competition exists in services, in enhancements, in system
integration, in solving problems.
Thus, you use a political myth, crafted from the business world, to
solve real problems which government cannot even understand in any
other way. The myth justifies the politicians in their fight against opponents.
The myth sets values, and the combination gives those who embrace it to the power to make change.
Think of it as open source politics in action. Or political evolution, if you prefer.