City Fiber Networks Create Community High-Speed Internet

Municipal fiber networks are spreading from coast to coast, but not all community fiber is equal, and some cities have taken very different approaches. What are they getting right, and where is there room for improvement to ensure universal high-speed Internet access? Roosevelt Institute Fellow Susan Crawford, joined by Harvard Law School students John Connolly and Travis West and Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law student Melissa Nally, takes on these questions In a new paper published by the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University.

Read the abstract below, and click here to download the paper, “Community Fiber in Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco.”

This report provides detailed accounts of planning carried out in connection with community fiber networks in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, CA, and Seattle, WA. It includes information about existing fiber assets that the cities identified, funding mechanisms that were considered, and roadblocks that were encountered. Our hope is that this report will be helpful to other cities that are considering launching fiber optic networks.

Key findings:

• The cities profiled in this report have each approached the question of community fiber differently.

• Washington, D.C. made concessions and arrangements that allowed it to build a robust public-safety-quality fiber network, but limitations on the use of that network have made it unavailable to residents and businesses. Additionally, prices charged non-profits for use of the network are currently too high to be competitive with incumbent products.

• San Francisco has been highly innovative in expanding fiber to public housing, aggressively leasing dark fiber to community anchor institutions such as libraries and schools, and ensuring free public Wi-Fi, but has not yet cracked the nut of alternative community residential or business fiber access.

• Seattle has had an extensive city fiber loop in place since 1986, but regulations limiting use of poles and approvals for cabinets have slowed the rollout of competitive last-mile service. Seattle’s recent negative experience with Gigabit Squared (which was unable to execute on its last-mile promises and subsequently vanished from the scene) casts a shadow. Seattle’s current mayor appears to be determined to ameliorate both the regulatory burdens and the information asymmetries that have dogged the city.