Open Media’s new COMMUNITY BROADBAND information web site can be found at https://community-broadband.ca/
Community broadband FAQs
WHAT IS MUNICIPAL BROADBAND?
Municipal broadband is a public Internet service provided by the community to its residents. Infrastructure is typically invested in by the local government, and is an alternative to Big Telecom’s privately-owned networks.
WHO WOULD OFFER SERVICES?
Internet services can be sold by municipalities themselves, nonprofits, small Internet service providers (ISPs), co-operatives, public utilities, public-private partnerships, and other community organizations. If the municipality operates the network under an open access policy, unused bandwidth capacity would be sold to ISPs for their use in retail. In other words, the municipality doesn’t have to become an ISP – it can build the network and let other companies sell services over it. To paraphrase from the film Field of Dreams, “If you build [a municipal network], [the ISPs] will come.”
WHAT DOES IT COST TO BUILD A MUNICIPAL BROADBAND NETWORK?
The cost of completion for a municipal broadband project varies by location. In Olds, Alberta, with a population under 10,000, expenses totalled around $21 million. The Niagara Regional Broadband Network (NRBN), in total, originally cost $13 million to complete. The Eastern Ontario Regional Network (EORN), which delivers service across hundreds of kilometers, required $170 million in funding. Of this budget, $70 million went toward laying new cables to connect 5,000 kilometers of existing fibre infrastructure.
WHY FIBRE OPTICS?
There are many reasons why fibre is the future of Internet infrastructure. Fibre is the fastest and most reliable broadband connection on the market, and has the capacity for much more bandwidth than traditional Internet platforms. The speed that a fibre network provides — which can be up to 1,000 times faster than your run-of-the-mill DSL connection — is also a huge draw for businesses and industry; in places like Chattanooga, Tennessee, it’s been proven to give the local economy a boost that hasn’t been seen since the industrial revolution.
IS CABLE AS GOOD AS FIBRE?
Unfortunately, cable just won’t cut it anymore. Unlike fibre, it has limited room for bandwidth and discourages efficient network traffic. Outdated platforms like DSL and copper wire would be a poor investment with minimal return. Fibre is future-proof; for years to come it will still be fast, durable, and highly efficient. Fibre’s promise of long-term speed and reliability is the draw for businesses to community-owned networks.
WHO PAYS FOR MUNICIPAL BROADBAND?
A project like this must mean tax hikes, right? Think again! There are examples in Canada where taxes didn’t need to be raised to pay for broadband infrastructure. In Olds, Alberta, the profits from O-Net are projected to completely pay off the community’s loans from the government within 10 years, due to the booming business the network has created for the municipality. If just one third of the population subscribes to O-Net, the project pays for itself.
WHAT IS OPEN ACCESS?
Municipalities who have laid broadband infrastructure will often sell their network capacity to ISPs, who in turn offer service to subscribers. Open access means that any provider, big or small, has the same opportunity to use a municipal broadband network. This includes indie providers, who sometimes face an uphill battle entering a market dominated by well-established companies.
DON’T TELECOM COMPANIES HATE THE IDEA OF COMMUNITY-OWNED NETWORKS?
With open access community-owned networks, telecom companies have the chance to profit from infrastructure that they didn’t pay to build. It widens the service area of existing ISPs and allows them to reach an expanded customer base. Not to mention, it gives all companies — including indie providers — an equal shot to get in on the market. That’s a great deal!
WHAT IS ‘BIG TELECOM’?
Big Telecom runs the show in Canada’s Internet market. Sometimes referred to as “incumbent providers”, they are the companies that sell the majority of Internet services to Canadians across the country. Household names like Bell, Telus, Rogers, Shaw, and more are part of Big Telecom, and collectively hold around 91% of the residential Internet market share.
WHAT’S AN INDIE PROVIDER?
As alternative options to Big Telecom, independent “indie” providers are smaller, third-party ISPs. They are an important part of healthy market competition in Canada, as they often encourage affordable prices from their larger competitors, resulting in better offerings for customers.
WHAT IS THE ‘DIGITAL DIVIDE’?
The digital divide refers to the ever-widening gap between people who have adequate access to the Internet and those who do not. In many cases, the divide exists along geographic and socioeconomic lines; that is, there are millions of rural, low-income, and remote Canadians with little to no broadband access, while urban centres remain the focus for affordable upgrades and fast connections. The Internet is a crucial medium for free expression, with the result that Canadians who fall on the wrong side of the digital divide see their ability to express themselves restricted.
WHAT DOES THE DIGITAL DIVIDE HAVE TO DO WITH MUNICIPAL BROADBAND?
The status quo isn’t fair to the 6.3 million Canadians who live in rural centres, or the 14.9% of the population who is considered low-income. Municipal broadband is one of the best ways we can close the digital divide in Canada. It connects rural populations to state-of-the-art fibre networks, and levels the playing field when Big Telecom won’t venture outside the city limits.
WHAT IS DARK FIBRE?
Dark fibre is a name for fibre that is “unlit”, and therefore, not in use. Dark fibre infrastructure is in some cases already built, as companies place more cables than necessary to save on future expenses. Dark fibre can be used to the municipal broadband network’s advantage, as the utilization of existing infrastructure is a great way to lower the cost of a project.
WHERE DO MUNICIPAL BROADBAND NETWORKS ALREADY EXIST?
Municipal broadband networks exist all over the world, in both urban and rural communities. Examples in Olds, Alberta and Sandy, Oregon illustrate how community-owned networks in North America can do wonders for the livelihoods of those who live there. Similar projects are even springing up thousands of miles away, in places like the Netherlands and Singapore.
- Olds, AB: The first to offer gigabit Internet
- Stratford, ON: Ontario’s technological innovation hub
- Coquitlam, BC: B.C.’s trail blazer
- Eastern Ontario: A real, rural network
The case for community broadband
When a municipality provides its community and residents with broadband Internet, this is called community (or municipal) broadband.
It’s a public alternative to the privately-owned services sold by Bell, Rogers, Telus, and other Internet service providers (ISPs). A municipal broadband network is typically invested in by the local government, and Internet services can be sold by municipalities themselves, nonprofits, small ISPs, co-operatives, public utilities, public-private partnerships, and other community organizations.
Municipal broadband can bridge the “digital divide” that exists between small towns and large centers. ISPs have been hesitant to invest in sparsely-populated areas in the past; telecom giants have determined that there is little profit to be made by bringing state-of-the-art infrastructure to subscribers outside of the urban sprawl.
A municipality can provide cheaper, more reliable, and more community-tailored Internet services to rural areas than large ISPs, as they are best equipped to address their own needs. If the community takes charge of operations, residents will then see the Internet become more accessible and affordable than ever before. Decisions on infrastructure improvements and upgrades are made with the best interests of the community in mind — not just the profits of big ISPs.
SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC BENEFITS
Municipal broadband provides a solid foundation for businesses and residents within a given community. It also introduces healthy choice to the telecom market, which could encourage Internet providers to offer cheaper, faster services with more flexible offerings. And the best part? It’s a great way to create a new source of revenue without raising taxes!
For a community, implementing a municipal broadband service is cost-effective and promotes job creation, efficiency, and greater savings on telecom costs. The inexpensive, yet cutting edge Internet access that results from municipal broadband has been proven to attract and retain small businesses. With a reliable connection and fast speeds, a company can improve the services they provide to their customers and trim their telecom expenses.
In towns across Canada, a quality Internet connection is becoming essential to enterprise in small communities. Businesses in Olds, Alta., were once threatening to leave town on the basis that their Internet was simply not fast enough to keep up with operations. The municipality launched a project to build their own fibre municipal broadband network “O-Net” in 2012; since its construction, Olds has again become a viable hub for business.
Meanwhile, south of the 49th parallel, Chattanooga, TN., is another city that has seen return on its community network investment from the growth of corporate and technological sectors in the community. Entrepreneurs, tech firms, researchers, and more chose to relocate to the city after the rollout of the “Chattanooga Gig,” their municipal-owned gigabit fibre network, breathed new life into the local economy.
Municipal broadband is a smart investment. It brings in revenue to the municipality itself and keeps it from leaking out. Money that flows within the community, not to telecom offices in large centers, is crucial to a sustainable local economy.
Self-sustaining communities are healthy and vibrant by nature. The potential for growth and a stable economy produce many social benefits which stem from projects themselves.
Municipal broadband is an instigator for civic engagement. It can lay the foundation for local residents, governments, and organizations to come together, attract new businesses, and keep young people in the community.
OpenMedia platform to help Canadians advocate for community-owned Internet service
OpenMedia has built a platform to make it easier for Canadians to connect with elected representatives in order to encourage more community-controlled broadband projects that are independent of big telecom providers.
In a blog post on its website Monday, the advocacy group said by helping directly connect Canadians to their government representatives, it hopes to bring “cheaper, faster” local government-supported Internet infrastructure in more communities across Canada.
The initiative has received funding from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA).
OpenMedia defines community broadband as an “independent Internet service provided by the community or a small independent ISP to residents,” the infrastructure of which is “typically invested in by the local government” and is an alternative to the big telecoms’ private networks.
Internet services can be sold by the “municipalities, nonprofits, small ISPs, cooperatives, public utilities, public-private partnerships, and other community organizations,” according to the portal’s website.
“Canadians pay some of the highest prices for both fixed and mobile Internet in the world,” the blog post said. “One in five Canadians can’t afford to have the web.”
OpenMedia said in the post it hopes to replicate what was done by O-Net in Olds, Alberta, where the first Canadian community-owned and operated fibre-to-the-premises (FTTP) network, which offers gigabit speeds, was built. Those Internet packages start at $57, according to the blog.