In the next 10 – 15 years, the technologies that are in their infancy now will move from science projects to mainstream society. These are things like self-driving cars, the blockchain, a grid that is dominated by renewable energy, education and healthcare automation and virtualization, and virtual reality technologies. The construct that is “the internet” is going to look very different in 10 years than it looks today. Many of the large technology companies (Tesla, Apple, Facebook, and Google) are focused on a different set of fundamental technologies than we have today. An important question every municipality should be asking is what kind of network will be needed to support these emerging technologies and how can the community anticipate these emerging technologies?
The technologies and models used in municipal networks today have seen very modest changes in the past 20 years. Most networks built today still follow the model established decades ago of shared infrastructure (neighbors share a network connection), asymmetrical (much slower upload than download speed), using very little network automation and virtualization, suffering from vendor lock-in, and are hardware defined rather than software defined. These networks are organized for profitability rather than utility and the lack of a competitive threat has allowed incumbents to preserve the status quo.
Further, in legacy hardware-defined networks, the network is siloed, and you must build a new physical silo for every problem you want to solve. With a Software Defined Network, problems get solved in software at a much lower cost and much faster speed.
A key economic development value differentiator for networks going forward will be resilience to future technology. Networks that are software defined, open to any service or innovation, organized as utility infrastructure, and designed with a data center architecture will likely offer distinct economic development advantages over static networks missing these attributes.
A municipally (publicly) owned fiber network provides the resilience, flexibility, and cost savings needed to attract and foster businesses dependent on advanced digital infrastructure. This also allows municipal leader to put in place long term solutions to lower costs and connect all residents and businesses. The key enabler to connect everyone is for municipalities to own and control its digital infrastructure. Setting policies and utilizing powerful technological tools gives community leader the ability to drive desired outcomes.
Municipal utilities exist to provide services that are critical for societal success. Like water, sewer, and electricity, internet access is crucial in today’s modern economy. Providing digital access as a public utility will result in the maximum level of service at the lowest possible price. The need for a utility-based approach stems from the fact that ISP-controlled internet access has led to gaps in affordability, availability, and quality of service at the lowest possible price. The need for a utility-based approach stems from the fact that ISP-controlled internet access has led to gaps in affordability, availability, and quality.