The Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a community support organization, recently compiled a map of the US showing towns and cities with publicly-owned Internet networks. About 340 communities currently enjoy the experience of having their Internet treated just like any other utility. Interestingly, the largest of these communities is Chattanooga, TN: Its fiber network accommodates 170,000 customers, a base that’s nowhere near the size of those found in the country’s largest cities.
What’s the Big Idea?
Bigger cities tend to be better served by telecom companies, whose lobbyists have been successful in helping to pass restrictions on municipal broadband in certain states (these appear on the map also). That said, there’s a business case to be made for providing at least some form of public Internet: It helps draw jobs, something that larger metropolises have traditionally taken for granted, says the ILSR’s Christopher Mitchell. “[B]ig cities have this arrogance…They never thought they’d have to worry about competing with Chattanooga over jobs.” Cheap, high-speed Internet could help influence a company’s decision to relocate to a smaller town as well.