Something wonderful about this project is that 450+ municipalities across the country have successfully started their own networks. How's that awesome for us? Well we're not just stumbling around in the dark trying to figure this stuff out as trailblazers. We can look at what has and hasn't worked elsewhere and emulate the best practices that have started to emerge.
If you're really curious about what other networks are out there, The Institute For Local Self Reliance has a map of all the municipal networks around the country.
Here's a brief intro to a few that we've been learning from:
Chattanooga is often touted as America's "Gig City". It's a wonderful example of a municipal network, but not unfortunately not something we could easily emulate in WNY. Chattanooga's network was rolled out through their public electric utility, EPB, using a $111 million grant from the federal government. For one, we can't bank on such a large influx of funds to facilitate a network here. We also don't have a public electric utility that already has significant expertise we can rely on to help us roll out our own all-fiber network. We have National Grid, a private, UK-based company. We do hope to have them as an important partner, but if we want local control and accountability, we have to develop our own expertise and resources to make this happen.
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City has gotten a lot of attention for being the first Google Fiber city. Although this may seem like a prestigious distinction, it has largely made headlines because it was Google's first foray into something public entities began diving into a while ago. Unfortunately, nothing is as good as it seems; one problem with Google Fiber is that it's another situation with private provider owning the infrastructure as well as providing the service. Worse than that, no other providers are allowed to use their infrastructure. While this may seem fine in the "I guess if they built it they own it" sense, this is akin to FedEx both delivering your packages and owning all the roads they drive on - and you not being allowed to drive on them either. This is perhaps the best analogy for why an open access network is important.
Lafayette is another example of a city that built out its own all-fiber municipal network through their own electric utility. Again, this isn't something we could do, but there are a couple interesting things we can learn from them. First and foremost: the community rallied around their city officials with 62% support when they put a referendum forth on bonding up to $125 million to build out the network. Not only is that remarkable and encouraging, but it should also be noted that Lafayette has been voted one of the most conservative cities in the country. Think about that: a deeply conservative city voted to fund over a hundred million dollars for this public project. Hopefully that speaks something to the value and appeal of these kinds of projects across any sort of political divide.
Santa Monica, California
This West Coast city perhaps best known for its beaches is the best example of a city that has developed its broadband infrastructure in a way that Buffalo can emulate. Though slightly smaller in size (~90,000 people whereas Buffalo has ~250,000), Santa Monica developed their own internal resources, sans public electric utility, to build out their own municipal network. Beyond that, what makes Santa Monica even more exciting is that they built out this network without accruing any debt. This was done through some initial grant funds for developing smart traffic signals, as well as discontinuing some expensive leased telecomm lines from what was then Adelphia. Then through a forward thinking policy, the city reinvested any savings it accrued from those leased lines ($400,000 in its first year alone, and $700,000 each subsequent year) back into the network. Though this is a slower approach than something like what Lafayette did, this is a way a city can build out its own network without having to dip any further into public funds. At the point where they're at now, Santa Monica has an Institutional Network that serves Santa Monica College, every City building, as well as some large anchor businesses in the region, and some low-income MDUs. They also recently rolled out the potential for 100 gigabit per second service to their network. This is one of the few places in the world where you'll find these kinds of speeds.
Outside the US: Stockholm, Sweden
Although it's not a city in the United States, it still offers a fascinating example of the potential of a locally-controlled, locally-owned fiber network. Stokab is the network owned by the Stockholm City Council. It's an open access network that is used not only for providing service to residents and businesses, but also serves as the foundation for many Smart City developments in the city: facilitating e-services like traffic monitoring, enhancing political engagement, parking management, and snow clearance, as well as management of Stockholm's Green IT strategy aimed at reducing the environmental impact of Stockholm. If Buffalo does this right, we can be the Stokab of North America.