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Municipal Broadband Networks Expand

By Lori Lovely | Feb 26, 2024
Getty Images / pablofdezr
Municipal broadband networks are increasingly being considered as an alternative to privately owned networks.

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Municipal broadband networks are increasingly being considered as an alternative to privately owned networks. In 2021, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a research and advocacy organization whose Community Broadband Networks Initiative documents what communities nationwide are doing to improve access to high-quality broadband, counted 400 municipal broadband networks serving 600 communities.

The ILSR recently added 47 new municipal networks that have come online since Jan. 1, 2021, to the list—a list that doesn’t include member-owned electric cooperatives that install fiber networks in rural communities or Tribal Nations that build and operate their own networks.

Additional projects are being planned all the time, with the possibility of 40 new municipal networks in California.

“From the Midwest to the Deep South, East Coast to West, we’ve seen an incredible amount of new energy by cities over the last two years,” said Ry Marcattilio, associate director for research with ILSR’s Community Broadband Networks Initiative. “Dozens of cities, ranging from 5,000 [to] 100,000 residents, have decided that enough is enough.”

Driving this surge in publicly owned, locally controlled, high-speed internet infrastructure is the rising demand for choice of internet service providers (ISPs).

“Instead of pleading with or giving additional handouts to the monopoly ISPs, [communities have] decided to invest in themselves,” Marcattilio said.

He continued that the newly added municipal networks include conduit-only networks like that in West Des Moines, Iowa, which brought several ISPs to town; institutional networks like the I-net the city of Alexandria, Va., built to serve local government operations, allowing the city to provide fiber for residential service; open-access networks like Yellowstone Fiber in Bozeman, Mont.; and the municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network currently under construction in Knoxville, Tenn. Although it’s already begun providing service to businesses and residents, it’s expected to take 7–10 years to build out the Knoxville Utilities Board fiber network, which, when completed, will make it one of the largest municipal broadband networks in the country.

Other recently added networks include:

  • Sherburne Connect in Sherburne, N.Y. – The village of Sherburne and the towns of Nichols, Diana and Pitcairn split $10 million from the state’s initial ConnectALL municipal grant program to build municipal-owned FTTH networks. 
  • Waterloo Fiber in Waterloo, Iowa – Waterloo officials recently launched their first limited fiber trial, with plans to connect their first commercial customers in February. The city is expected to spend $115 million to build a fiber network that can serve all residents by providing affordable fiber service at speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbps) by 2026. 
  • CVFiber in central Vermont – CVFiber broke ground on a $60 million, 1,200-mile fiber optic network in 2022, with the hope of bringing affordable gigabit broadband access to 6,000 rural Vermont addresses deemed underserved by commercial broadband providers. The town of Calais saw its first FTTH subscriber in October 2023 and crews are expanding the network to other towns in CVFiber’s service area.

Header image: Getty Images / pablofdezr

About The Author

Lori Lovely is an award-winning writer and editor in central Indiana. She writes on technical topics, heavy equipment, automotive, motorsports, energy, water and wastewater, animals, real estate, home improvement, gardening and more. Reach her at: [email protected]


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