St. Paul, Minnesota Explores Municipal Fiber

Being someone who believes that while municipal wifi is nice it is overhyped and should come after fiber to the premesis (where I do much more computing anyway) I’m excitied to see that the nearby city of St. Paul, Minnesota is exploring municipal fiber.

What the St. Paul Broadband Access Committee (BAC) may not be aware of, but something I suggested they read is Bob Cringley’s article from last year about a new model for municipal connectivity. Instead fo relying on the municipality itself to provide Internet service, arguably with the potential to be a worse system administrator than the RBOCs and cable companies, his suggestion is a public/private partnership. Following his thinking, which comes from Bob Frankston (of VisiCalc fame) and others, the city would install and own the fiber infrastructure from central connectivity points to end users but would not actually provide any Internet (or voice or video service) leaving that up to private providers. In fact, the municipality would not be responsible for any of the electronic equipment either, just the raw pipes (or tubes if you prefer).

The beauty of this solution is that the city will own the infrastructure and allow multiple providers to compete to provide service. That competition, in addition to the fact that providers will not have the large up front cost of installing the fiber itself, should allow for service costs to remain quite low. In addition, with the use of technologies such as optical splitters and combiners it would be possible to get Internet from one provider, voice from a second and video from a third if you so chose. It’ll be interesting to see if this can take off, one thing I know is that I’m not especially interested in having government control the Internet portion of my service, the potential for abuse such as censorship or snooping is simply too great, but I have no problem with them owning some of the last-mile infrastructure if it means I can select from a number of providers!

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