Community Owned Fiber Optic Ring
Let’s Talk About Housing and Homeless in Davis

The need for cheap, abundant, ultra-wide Internet bandwidth

Fiber-optics-internetBy Robert Nickerson

Sometimes it seems this town is trying to find its get up and go. If we were taking an auto trip we are getting a lot of constituencies into the car, Ag and Seed, BioTech, New Downtown, Innovation Center, are all getting in and closing the door, putting on our seatbelts, turning the key and not getting anywhere. To our dismay, we look down and see no tires. We are missing an essential element that forms the vehicle that drives our economy to growth, to speed us along our way, that thing is cheap, abundant, ultra-wide Internet bandwidth. Businesses and their employees working in these fields that we are trying to bring to town, require access to the fastest and most reliable transport infrastructure available, fiber optic cable. For three years the City of Davis Broadband Advisory Task Force has been evaluating the feasibility of a community-owned fiber optic network. On June 4th they will deliver their recommendation that it is, and that the City should seriously consider pursuing this opportunity. We agree, and hope the City Council takes the next steps the Task Force recommends.

As the next Internet Age finally catches on in the United States, going from Megabits we work on now, to Gigabits, fiber optic cable is the engine that will deliver it to our homes and businesses. However, monopoly control of communication by Very Large ISPs has left us with coax cables (Comcast) and copper phone lines (AT&T), putting us, the consumers and business between a rock and a hard place. Since they can charge monopoly prices and love it, these companies have no incentives to improve the infrastructure they already have in place. Due to this business model, Davis is the equivalent of a developing country in terms of Internet Access. And so all of us, big and small business, residents, students, schools, government, are stuck in a high priced, tightly rationed, scarce Internet marketplace. We are in this car with no wheels and we can’t get going, while globally based counterparts of ours, in other college towns, work in a world of unlimited abundant, cheap, and reliable connections that business investors and innovators are looking for. International students from third world countries are flabbergasted by the situation.

DavisGIG began in 2015 with the intent of bringing this next generation of Internet infrastructure to Davis, the one that takes us from the Megabit Age to the Gigabit one, and have it owned and operated by the community. This has been called different things like municipal fiber or community broadband in over 750 other cities in the US that have some form of local network ownership. Every time, decoupling the physical infrastructure from the Very Large Internet companies and leasing access to it, creates the competitive marketplace that lowers prices for consumers. It removes the monopoly power and control of Very Large ISPs over the wired infrastructure, and now instead, it’s part of the public good, and it is our community that has control of that line that comes to your home, delivering the Internet bandwidth. Having control means in Davis, we can directly address net neutrality and privacy at a local level, and Davis consumers will be able to shop around for competitive pricing for Internet Service Providers, ensuring high speeds and good service.

During the 20th century, we have learned that essential utilities like electricity, sewer, and water, essential for economic activity and for a decent quality of life, must be available to everyone at reasonable prices. The Internet is the utility of the 21st century it should be a tool to generate economic activity, not an economic burden. Access for everyone is essential, and just as we have controlled or subsidized rates for water, telephone and power to ensure that everyone can participate in the economy, the same reasoning must be applied here. Children already need network access to do homework and we must ensure that every child has adequate access to educational resources via good broadband service. More medical services will be delivered over the network as well, so we have to make sure every parcel has adequate access.

Businesses would come and stay here if they could connect their buildings to one another for $100s instead of $1000’s per month, and be able to have it available in days versus months. Having the reassurance that the community manages fiber optic infrastructure throughout the community and offers leased access to it lets businesses know we prioritize what they need. It changes the calculus from locating in Davis to a potential drawback to a solid plus.

Having local control of our network resources lets our community offer innovative services like inexpensive network connections between buildings, for office to office, office to campus, or home to home without going over the public Internet. It means connecting all our important City and school sites for a one time cost. It means being able to change Internet providers quickly through a web page. Parents of sick at home students could connect their home network directly to DJUSD for uncompressed video conferencing to the classroom, and finally UCD students could achieve substantial monthly broadband savings by connecting directly to the UCD campus to take them to the Internet. Let’s unleash the talent in this town by giving our talented, artistic, and highly educated residents the platform they need to create, distribute and do business, and give Davis a key advantage in attracting creative new investors.

The best part of getting these new wheels on our economic vehicle, is we are disrupting this monopoly marketplace, taking control of an out of control situation, and redirecting a portion of our monthly broadband bill right back to our City where it is needed. Make no mistake, there is no wired infrastructure coming after Fiber Optic. It’s either going to be installed and owned by Davis, or we will have another infrastructure monopolist who will carry on the tradition of cherry picking affluent neighborhoods to extract as much revenue as they can, with none of the many benefits of community ownership. Help our community make the right decision here, write your favorite City Councillor and let them know you support community broadband.

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