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LA Councilmember Proposes Municipal Broadband Feasibility Study

The city is the latest jurisdiction to contemplate making high-speed Internet a utility, joining a diverse group of cities and states that includes the likes of San Francisco and Colorado.

A Los Angeles councilmember has introduced a motion to study the feasibility of a municipal broadband network that would provide at-cost high-speed Internet to the city's local businesses and residents.

This motion, introduced earlier this month by Councilmember Paul Krekorian, called for a study into the creation of a new public department to oversee what is essentially an effort to improve the city’s broadband capabilities. If successful when it goes up for a vote in the coming months, the motion would make Los Angeles one of a growing number of state and local governments across the country that is exploring the feasibility of municipal broadband efforts with an eye toward potentially turning high-speed Internet access into a utility akin to electricity, water or gas.

In announcing the motion, Krekorian emphasized that providing at-cost access to high-speed Internet was increasingly important, citing developing factors such as a lack of competition among Internet service providers, as well as the Federal Communications Commission’s decision last year to repeal protections for net neutrality. Krekorian also noted that Los Angeles already owns a network of fiber-optic cable that runs through every part of the city, and his intention is to see if the local government can tap this to provide equitable access to fast Internet connections.

“If we can move forward with this, Los Angeles would be the biggest city to take on creating a broadband utility, but we would not be the first,” Krekorian said. “In this process, I want to make sure we look at any existing models that are being used or tested elsewhere in the country and evaluate how effective they are at delivering cost-effective broadband service to residents. Cities like Chattanooga, Tenn., have a robust system in place where they have been able to increase Internet speeds without increasing the cost to consumers. Other cities and towns are broadband providers as well.”

Krekorian also pointed out that Los Angeles has many residents who are struggling to afford Internet access for their homes, pointing to a recent study by the University of Southern California that found there was little head-to-head competition among service providers in the jurisdiction, resulting in “high prices for consumers and little pressure for companies to upgrade their networks for better service.” The study also reported that there is only one option for broadband in about two-thirds of the city.

Elsewhere in California, San Francisco recently moved to start choosing private-sector partners capable of helping it build its own broadband network at the lowest possible cost. This comes after roughly three years of determining what a city-owned network might look like. As part of these efforts, San Francisco is mandating its potential partner adhere to net neutrality principles. It is also requiring subsidies for low-income residents, as well as privacy protections for consumer data.

As in Los Angeles, city leaders in San Francisco have also described a municipal broadband network as vital to fostering inclusion efforts for digital equity.

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.