The broadband market has been rocked by a handful of major unexpected developments over the past few years, from Google suddenly stepping into the market with significantly faster broadband at much lower prices to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) removing nearly all legal barriers to municipal broadband projects.
The fallout from the FCC's ruling is beginning to gain some steam, with a 101-city coalition called Next Century Cities aiming to smooth the path for municipalities to bring affordable, gigabit-speed broadband to their cities.
While the success stories are much more well-known, such as Chattanooga, Tennessee's long-running municipal gigabit fiber network, others have failed in spectacular fashion, like the city of Provo, Utah, whose municipal broadband project struggled before the city ultimately sold its existing fiber to Google for $1. This nationwide group could help provide access to information and expertise on broadband deployment to ensure the taxpayer money devoted to such a project doesn't go to waste.
Next Century Cities formed in October shortly after the FCC announced a ruling intended to make it easier to build municipal broadband networks, an important ruling particularly in the 20 states that had laws on the books prohibiting the practice. The FCC made it official with a February ruling that it was overruling these state laws, many of which were written or pushed by telecom lobbyists looking to prevent competition.
Since October, Next Century Cities has grown from 32 inaugural member cities to 101, and includes "cities that have built their own municipal broadband networks, cities that want to build their own, and cities that have worked with companies such as Google to bring fiber, gigabit-speed internet to their residents," a Motherboard article explained. So the group isn't focused solely on foster 100% municipal broadband, but in finding a way to bring the kinds of low-price, high-speed services to their cities. The group is taking a smart approach, too – calling for broadband to be built out to schools, churches, and underserved communities, according to Motherboard. Even the most legally equipped lobbyist group will have trouble publicly opposing a benefit for schools and churches.
This resource for cities considering alternative measures to gigabit broadband is just the latest sign that the market is quickly evolving from its previous stasis. The Google Fiber influence has already forced incumbent Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to roll out low-priced multi-gigabit-speed broadband just to keep customers in the markets where Google Fiber has set its sights. And startups are also beginning to pop up to serve regions that are going ignored by the major companies, Google or otherwise. A group like Next Century Cities will only further drag the traditional ISPs out of the status quo.
Whether or not broadband becomes a municipal service on a nationwide scale remains to be seen, but regardless of who provides it, it looks like low-cost, high-speed broadband services are on their way to becoming the standard.