Federal Municipal Network Support Declining, Warns Experts

Despite initial federal support, funding programs are not supportive of municipal broadband.

Federal Municipal Network Support Declining, Warns Experts
Photo of Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief of Broadband Now

Jul 11, 2024 – Experts expressed concern that federal support for municipal broadband is limited, prompting uncertainty about future funding and operational sustainability at a Fiber for Breakfast event Wednesday. 

Tyler Cooper, editor-in-chief of Broadband Now, a website that provides resources for internet providers, said that Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment grants are less promising for municipal broadband deployments despite initial promises. 

We want to make sure BEAD funding areas have a vibrant competitive marketplace for decades to come, said Cooper. “It is here that I think municipal providers stand to make the most impact over time.”

“Municipal providers have been a lifeline to residents in these areas,” said Cooper. “They spur competition and innovation, they build future-proof technologies, primarily fiber, and they're more in tune in general with the needs of their communities than other providers.”

However, Cooper expressed concern that BEAD rules and requirements may not favor municipal networks, potentially favoring larger ISPs. BEAD has “become a much less promising vehicle for deploying municipal broadband nationwide.”

During President Joe Biden’s presidential campaign, Biden made bold promises to encourage local solutions to the digital divide, “explicitly stating that the community broadband networks would be prioritized,” said Cooper. “One of the major things that they promised was to remove state-level barriers that restrict the development of municipal broadband.”

“We have essentially received none of those things,” he concluded.

President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, Gary Bolton expressed the challenges of seeking federal funding, “the rules are tilted away from municipal networks.” He added that larger ISPs may go after the funding to prevent municipalities from taking it.

Cooper recommended a “comprehensive approach would redesign the subsidy program for the post-BEAD world, potentially using something like a cost-based system going backwards, hearkening to the original Universal Service Fund” 

There are currently 16 states with laws prohibiting or making it difficult for broadband municipal networks to be established. However, in May, Minnesota removed its municipal limitation.

The New York State Assembly passed, in April, a budget bill without language that would hinder the deployment of publicly owned broadband networks, advocates say. The proposed amendment would have altered the state’s ConnectAll Municipal Infrastructure Program, which makes nearly $230 million available for local governments and nonprofits to expand broadband infrastructure.

Popular Tags