Common Roadblocks to Launching a Municipal Broadband Service

Updated: May 5

Municipally owned broadband utilities are the most effective way communities can provide citizens with access to high-speed broadband. Municipal broadband utilities constructed using fiber-optic cable provide symmetrical service with upload and download speeds of up to 10 gigabits. Customer satisfaction is significantly higher than most privately owned commercial services because customer support and repair activities are locally controlled. Some communities don't offer speeds below 1 gigabit at prices matching competitors selling much slower speeds.

So why aren't more communities launching municipal broadband services?

My experience creating a municipal broadband utility in my home community spans 15 years, culminating in a successful launch in the fall of 2020. I donated the services of my professional marketing company for three years to secure public support for the project, and our experience has led other municipal broadband startups to hire us. After multiple projects, we now have insight into several common challenges confronting new municipal broadband utilities.

Debate About Technology Causes Delay

The proven resilience of fiber-optic technology has lessened the risk of delay from technology debates, but even now, the risk of delay caused by technology debates is high. Today those risks are fueled by hopes for a cheap and easy solution using mini-satellite systems like Elon Musk's Starlink, super-tower blimps, and 5-G cellular services. Further back, the voices in favor of delay cited Google Fiber, traditional satellite systems, and system upgrades promised by incumbent providers.

Debates about which technology would eventually be the cheapest and easiest to deploy derailed our effort so many times that our campaign focused on just four words - We've Waited Long Enough.

Our advice is to stay focused on the benefits of municipal broadband and avoid debate about technology.

Megabits, Gigabits, Or Terabits Won't Sell Your Project

The typical consumer expects the lights to come on and provide continuous power for the entire house without knowing anything about electricity. The same is true for water, sanitary sewer, and the landfill receiving their garbage. In fact, most of us know very little about any of those essential services.

Instead of selling broadband by highlighting performance specifications, focus on the outcomes from having more dependable and affordable service that is also faster. Immediate results can include:

  • More remote employment opportunities.

  • Attracting new business investment.

  • Higher home values.

  • Access to telehealth services.

  • Access to previously unavailable learning and entertainment opportunities.

Never Stop Selling The Advantages Of Your Municipal Broadband Service

Our local municipal broadband service became the market leader very quickly. Other municipal broadband utilities we've worked for have achieved similar results. But then an odd thing often happens – the utility stops promoting itself. Because the same person is often in charge of production and promotion, the first stopping point occurs when they've developed a backlog of installations. All it takes are a few calls from grumpy people waiting for their service, and the lights go out on advertising and promotion.

Here is why that's such a bad idea.

  • Reaching maximum market share in the shortest possible time dramatically increases profitability.

  • There are always people moving into and out of the community, and without constant promotion, many newcomers will buy from the incumbents who never stopped promoting their company.

  • There are always people and often businesses considering a move to your community. They won't learn about the superior service you provide from the chamber of commerce, realtors, the schools, or the internet unless you're continuously promoting what you offer.