Is municipal broadband feasible in Multnomah County? Maybe

Multnomah County last month announced the release of a feasibility study of municipal broadband. The idea—endorsed in principle by the Northwest Oregon Labor Council—is that county and local jurisdictions would install a fiber-optic network and offer affordable high-speed internet access to homes and businesses, just like they offer water and sewer service. Sandy, Oregon, has such a network, and Hillsboro is building one. Fiber is up to 40 times faster than cable, but cable and phone monopolies have balked at making the investment to install a fiber network. Public bond financing would make capital costs cheaper. The 281-page study, produced by CTC Technology & Energy, reported that:

  • Building a county-wide, fiber-to-the-premises network would cost $966 million. The financial viability of such a network would be very price sensitive. At $80 a month, it would pay for itself if 35% of households signed up. At $50 a month, 70% of households would have to sign up. Market research showed that consumer interest falls off considerably above $50 a month.
  • 56% of households in the county currently get internet access via coaxial cable (chiefly Comcast), 17% via phone line (Centurylink DSL), and 17% through fiber optic cable. Of the remaining 10% that have no home-based internet connection, 6% have some internet access through their phone, while 4% have no internet access at all.
  • 53% of respondents support a publicly financed fiber network, while 21% oppose such a thing. Support drops as the price of switching to a new provider increases beyond $50 a month.

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