A growing number of economically stagnant communities have been turning toward municipal broadband to cure what ails them. While they're often simply looking to bring broadband to the under-served, there's frequent predictions that bandwidth will act as some kind of economic panacea.
This 2003 report
out of Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania is one such example. By simply filling unused steam ducts with fiber, one local businessman claims he'd create 300-500 jobs for the depressed region, with salaries around $53,000 per employee. "When people read about Wilkes Barre it's no longer about the flood or George Banks, it's going to be about us leading the nation in technology,"
promises Thom Greco, the man behind the push.
But more than a year has gone by since that report, and Wilkes Barre has not become Tokyo, much less seen much progress in terms of bringing fiber to the people. Greco is still looking for funding
for his fiber dream, saying he'll offer subscribers phone, TV, and data services for around $140 or $150 a month. He's also hoping his eventual fiber network will one-day be an off-ramp between Internet 2 and several area educational institutions.
But are predictions of economic salvation over-stated? Are they used by municipal planners simply to gather area support? Is bandwidth a panacea?
According to recent data
(pdf) from the Strategic Networks Group of Ottawa, such projects really do have a positive impact on local economies. The township of South Dundas, 66 miles south of Ottawa, built their own fiber-optic and wireless network to provide service to the under-wired of the region. According to community leaders, the move is seeing significant results.
The community spent $975,000 to build and maintain the network, and as a result has witnessed 62.5 new jobs, $2.1 million in commercial expansion in the region, and $105,000 in increased regional revenues and cost-savings. The Dundas study also indicates that the area should witness a growth in gross domestic product to the tune of $18.9 million over the next two to four years.
This week MuniWireless
offered up a similar success story in the states. Verizon refused to wire the 6,000 person town of Scottsburg, Indiana because the company believed there wasn't enough interest to make their efforts profitable.
Instead, the town created a wireless municipal broadband network that piggybacked on local power company fiber. In the process, the move saved some 60 jobs at a local Chrysler repair shop that Corporate headquarters was going to close if high-speed wasn't soon available. According to the town's mayor, the network cost $385,000 to create, ultimately saving the community $6000 per month in telecommunications costs.
Obviously, as efforts in Tacoma, Washington
indicate, economic revival takes a lot more than simply burying fiber, setting up lawnchairs, and waiting for an industrial mecca to develop. Bandwidth does however seem to provide a fairly stable foundation for construction.