Across Michigan, cities big and small have looked for ways to help their residents get access to high-speed internet service. Unfortunately, too many are going about it the wrong way.
Traverse City. Holland. Marquette. Farmington and Farmington Hills. Each has explored a government owned or run system for expanding broadband internet and related services. Some have stepped back. Others, like Traverse City, have pushed forward despite rising costs and missed projections.
Government-run internet systems are a bad idea. Around the country, nearly all of them miss their projections for how many people will sign up, and they lose money. Many end up going bankrupt. Provo, Utah, for example, spent $39 million before selling its system to Google for a dollar, and the state of Kentucky spent at least $1.5 billion on what’s been called an “information highway to nowhere.”
In Michigan, some residents don’t have good service. And others don’t have many companies to choose from. Is there anything the state of Michigan and local governments do about it? That’s what the Mackinac Center seeks to lay out in our new report, “A Broadband Toolkit For Local Governments: How Michigan Cities Should Expand Access to High-Speed Internet.”
The toolkit discusses five things local government officials should do for their citizens.
Clear away needless local regulations
These cover access to telephone poles and public rights-of-way, as well as drawing on new FCC rules to empower citizens to use their own property for services.
Foster competition among private providers
Let’s use the private sector and competitive bidding to get internet service to areas where it isn’t.
Lower barriers to additional private investment
Taxes and government fees on equipment can mean that companies will not find it financially attractive to expand service.
Resist a one-size-fits-all technological solution
What we want is more access to high-speed internet. But there are many ways to achieve that, including wires laid to the home, 5G signals and service through cell phones. Local governments should be flexible in what they consider.
Provide vouchers rather than costly and risky government-owned networks
If, after doing all the above, a government finds there are still people who can’t access service, it should explore vouchers for the low-income, or the elderly, or residents with no options. This is preferable to a duplicative government-owned network.
With this report, citizens can ask their local governments what they are doing, and elected officials can better understand their options. With billions of dollars set to pour into Michigan to expand broadband internet access, these guidelines to prevent government waste are needed more than ever.