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Commercial uses of munibroadband

Incumbents have forced the discussion of munibroadband to be about commercial uses, sometimes excluding the non-commericial uses that citizens might want to make of the network.
Written by Phil Windley, Contributor on

Every month, I host what I call the CTO Breakfast for anyone who wants to come and talk about technology and products.  Last Friday, there were about 30 people there and we spent some time listening to Dynamic City, the company building and operating the multi-city UTOPIA network, discuss the network, its architecture, and operation. 

I've been concerned since munibroadband first came up in Utah that the networks would somehow look like clones of their privately owned counterparts instead of being open, accessible infrastructure that supports commercial and non-commercial purposes.  I was happy to see UTOPIA with three ISPs (so far) offering some very unDSL-like service.  For example MSTAR is selling a 10Mb/s symmetric service for $40/month.  

Most interesting to the group of people at the breakfast, most of whom have an entrepreneurial bent was "what does it take to become a provider on the network?"  At first that question sounds like "how to I become an ISP?" but there's a twist.  You could be providing services beyond mere connectivity.  The most obvious example, at least to me, is  something like video on demand.  Other examples that came up were self-provisioning VPN services that can be tacked-up and torn down for special purpose events. 

The answer basically came down to "if you can show us how you're buying wholesale and selling retail, then you can become a provider on UTOPIA."  That's good--open access to anyone with an idea.  But it's also bad--there's too much focus on "commercial" ventures.  The fault lies with the law: legislative efforts on the part of Qwest and Comcast have resulted in laws that restrict UTOPIA and other munibroadband projects in Utah to operate at the wholesale level only.

I understand the thinking--there's a fear that cities would "compete" with commercial players.  But it's also like restricting roads to "wholesale" uses, as far as I'm concerned.  If roads operated like munibroadband networks in Utah, you could hire a cab to drive you somewhere or you could start a taxi company yourself, but you couldn't just drive on them.   Incumbents have forced the discussion to be about "commercial" uses instead of letting the discussion center on the proper role of government--building networks that foster commerce, yes, but also improve quality of life. 

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