The Municipal Broadband Compact

Limiting the Role of Municipalities in Broadband Services

Preamble

The role of municipalities in the provision of broadband services is a subject of much debate. An increasing number of local governments are proposing either to build and operate broadband networks for residential and business use, or to develop broadband infrastructure for wholesale lease to commercial service providers. But to allow townships, cities, counties and even states to directly compete against the private sector undermines technological progress and violates fundamental principles of American free enterprise.

As scholars and analysts specializing in broadband policy, we recently convened online to examine the issue. Empirical research and economic rationale guided our deliberations, as well as the recommendations that conclude this Compact. (The signatories are listed at the end of this document.)

Findings

Currently, a relatively small number of municipalities and public utility districts provide broadband services via cable modem or telephone lines. Proposals for such systems are pending in a variety locales; hundreds of other communities are actively considering publicly owned and operated wireless Internet systems or some form of "public-private partnership."

Some elected officials seem to believe that government deployment of broadband will attract high-tech jobs and business investment to their region. Ironically, publicly subsidized broadband services actually discourage private investment. To the extent government assumes the role of service provider, there is less opportunity and incentive for a private firm to enter the market. Moreover, municipalities have largely proven to be incapable of keeping pace with technological change.

There is no evidence of the "market failure" that might otherwise excuse government intervention in broadband service. Penetration rates and bandwidth supply are rapidly rising, while broadband prices are falling. Meanwhile, many — if not most — of the municipal systems that provide residential service fail to generate enough revenue to repay the public debt incurred to create them.

Principles

The following principles are necessary elements of sound broadband policy:

  1. Internet-based commerce must be allowed to operate according to consumer demand and market forces, unburdened by price controls, service mandates, access regulations, taxation or censorship.

  2. Rules governing Internet use and electronic commerce should result from private collective action, not government edict.

  3. Protection of private property rights is a necessary condition for the profitability and growth of the digital economy.

  4. Government can best encourage broadband deployment by eliminating tax and regulatory barriers to broadband investment and market competition.

  5. Technological innovation has rendered existing regulations wholly obsolete. Outmoded regulatory regimes threaten to undermine the affordability and availability of new products and services.

  6. Municipal interference in broadband displaces private investment, distorts prices and forces taxpayers to subsidize services they may not use.

Recommendations

To optimize broadband deployment, we recommend the following:

  1. Access to broadband can often be expanded by eliminating unnecessary regulations that delay, raise the cost, or even effectively ban the construction of new network facilities.

  2. Municipalities and other local units of government should be prohibited from investing in, managing or operating broadband infrastructure and services.

  3. Congress should restrict the authority of states to regulate and tax broadband infrastructure and services in the interest of preserving interstate commerce.

  4. Telecom taxes and cable franchise fees should be eliminated to encourage investment in broadband services.

Signed:

Sonia Arrison
Director, Technology Studies
Pacific Research Institute

Joseph L. Bast
President
The Heartland Institute

Bill Becker
Executive Director
The Maine Heritage Policy Center

John Berthoud
President
National Taxpayers Union

Greg Blankenship
Director
Illinois Policy Institute

Steve Buckstein
Senior Policy Analyst and founder
Cascade Policy Institute
Portland, Oregon

Braden Cox
Technology Counsel
Competitive Enterprise Institute

Donn Dears
President
TS August

Tom Giovanetti
President
Institute for Policy Innovation (IPI)

Matthew Hisrich
Policy Analyst
The Buckeye Institute

Drew Johnson
President
Tennessee Center for Policy Research

Diane Katz
Director of Science, Environment & Technology Policy
The Mackinac Center for Public Policy

Matt Kibbe
President and CEO
FreedomWorks

Kris Alan Mauren
Executive Director
Acton Institute

Jeffrey Mazzella
President
Center for Individual Freedom

Edmund J. McMahon Jr.
Director, Empire Center for New York State Policy
Senior Fellow for Tax and Budget Studies Manhattan Institute for Policy Research

Paul T. Mero
President
Sutherland Institute

Dr. Adrian Moore
Vice President
Reason Foundation

Grover Norquist
President
Americans for Tax Reform

Tom Readmond
Executive Director
Media Freedom Project

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D.
Director, Urban and Land Use Policy
Reason Foundation

David M Strom
President
Taxpayers League of Minnesota

Daniel Mead Smith
President
Washington Policy Center

Bret Swanson
Senior Fellow
Discovery Institute

Steven Titch
Senior Fellow
The Heartland Institute

Vince Vasquez
Policy Fellow
Pacific Research Institute

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