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Municipal Broadband: A Need for Federal Policy

This paper was written in May 2012 for Intelligent Cities, a Master of Urban Planning Elective Course at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service.  The first paragraph is presented below, the rest of the paper can be downloaded as a PDF. Crucial to the idea of smart cities is a municipality’s ability to quickly move information across a network. In recent years, some cities have developed and installed publicly-owned municipal broadband networks to facilitate the flow of their data, many of which serve double-duty as a low-cost internet service provider for residents and businesses. This approach considers internet access as a public utility, an infrastructure investment for the public good just like a road or bridge. The government can take full advantage of the coverage to allow its many public services to communicate more effectively, and citizens get another option for internet service where before there were few (or none). Due to their direct competition with private telecommunications companies, the legality of municipal broadband networks has sparked a major controversy, prompting the introduction of federal legislation by both sides. Early implementation efforts met with financial, technological, and political hurdles, but recent success stories abound showcasing the benefit of a tech-savvy municipality. A national policy is needed to end the debate and support the ability of cities and communities to leverage municipal networks for the public good. Download the Full Paper

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