Interest by Jamestown officials in creating a municipal broadband network has at least one administrator from a private internet service provider questioning the idea.
In the last year, officials have been discussing the idea of creating a broadband network in the city, gauging the interest of local residents. However, Chris Thomas, Windstream vice president of government affairs, questions the initiative because two private internet service providers are already providing access to the fastest broadband service available to the vast majority of city residents.
“We already offer 1-gigabit service,” he said. “We will be launching a 2-gigabit service soon.”
Thomas said in his experience, municipalities that have created its own municipal broadband are usually remote, rural areas where there is little-to-no broadband service available. That’s not the case in Jamestown.
“There’s already competition and choices,” he said. “It’s unusual for a city to pursue its own network when you already have two providers in the city offering 1 gig service.”
Jamestown Mayor Eddie Sundquist said, while city officials are analyzing the possibility of creating its own broadband network, they have discovered residents are paying $75 to $100 a month for 100 megabits of service. He said a feasibility report shows if the city created its own broadband network, the city might be able to lower the cost of service to $30 a month for 1 gigabit of service.
“Being able to provide the internet as a utility is a direction the city should be looking at given our unique position of offering utilities,” Sundquist said, referencing the five divisions of the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities. “We can do the same thing private entities can do, but we just won’t have large payouts to shareholders. The profits will go back into the government service.”
Thomas said there are several examples of cities that tried to create its own municipal broadband network but failed. He said in Provo, Utah, city leaders invested $39 million to create a broadband network, which eventually failed and was sold to Google for $1. He said it Tacoma, Wash., the city lost $7 million trying to create its own network.
“The history of municipal networks is not positive,” he said. “Several have had to sell their network to a third party. Cities believe they can just run some wire and be an (internet service provider).”
Thomas said one aspect municipal officials don’t anticipate is how quickly the infrastructure of a broadband network needs to be maintained or updated.
“In five years, they’re going to have to make infrastructure upgrades,” he said. “They already have bridges and roads they have to maintain and upgrade. The money they spend on the network, to build it and upgrade it, takes money away from their budget for other needs.”
Sundquist said while city officials can use American Rescue Plan Act funds to create the broadband network, projections show the city will be able to upgrade the fiber infrastructure and maintain it into the future from revenue generated.
“The projections from the feasibility study show in about four years the service makes enough money to cover further infrastructure upgrades and produces a profit for the city,” he said. “We will take the profits we make and put that into the infrastructure.”
Sundquist said city officials are currently preparing to release the feasibility study to the public. A public meeting is set for 7 p.m. Thursday in the Fireplace Room at the James Prendergast Library, located at 509 Cherry St., to discuss the findings of the report.
“I am excited to show the public our Broadband Feasibility Study,” he said. “The potential for municipally-owned broadband infrastructure is critical to address the digital divide and attract investment. This study charts a bold path forward and makes affordable, high-speed internet for all Jamestown residents much closer to reality.”
Following the release of the feasibility study, Sundquist said city officials will create a broadband commission to make a recommendation on whether the city should move forward with creating its own municipal fiber network.
“There is large support at the state and federal levels for this program,” he said. “People are watching to see what Jamestown may do.”