High-Speed on the Horizon?

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Could we see universal high-speed connectivity come to Los Angeles in the near future? Maybe. The CityLinkLA initiative, backed by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, aims to make internet access available to all. Here’s a brief outline from the CityLinkLA web site.

CityLinkLA is an initiative designed to address both the digital divide and our virtual competitiveness. Launched in 2014 by Mayor Eric Garcetti and Councilmember Bob Blumenfield, CityLinkLA is an effort to encourage the private sector to deploy advanced wireline and Wi-Fi digital communications networks so that every residence and business in Los Angeles has access to world-class, high-speed Internet and at prices comparable to those in other innovative communities around the world. The goal is to provide basic access to all for free or at a very low cost and gigabit (1 Gbps) or higher speed access at competitive rates. CityLinkLA is envisioned to include wired gigabit access to every home and business and as close to ubiquitous wireless coverage for the entire City as possible.

First, let me say that I totally support the goal of giving everybody high-speed access to the internet. And I give Garcetti and Blumenfield credit for getting the ball rolling on this. High-speed connectivity will play a major role in making urban centers competitive in the future, and other other cities have already gotten the jump on us. Tech is something Garcetti understands, and he’s done a great job of luring tech companies to the LA area. Entertainment and media companies will also see the attraction of widely available broadband access. And I’m glad the CityLinkLA web site clearly states that one of the goals is to make the internet available to everybody, regardless of income or neighborhood.

But I do have a few reservations. There are different ways to wire a city for universal access. Take Chattanooga, Tennessee and Austin, Texas. Chattanooga’s network is owned by the city, and offers very high speeds to everyone for very low rates. Austin, on the other hand, is pursuing the same approach as LA. That is, inviting private industry the opportunity to do the job, in the hope that competition will keep rates low. And so far that doesn’t seem to be getting the job done. For details, check out the two articles below.

Chattanooga’s Super-Fast Publicly Owned Internet from CNN

Austin Shows Us What Broadband Competition Was Supposed to Look Like from TechDirt

Personally, I’d prefer to see LA offer broadband through a public utility, because I think it would lead to lower rates, more transparency and more control. Having said that, it’s important to note that Chattanooga is pretty small (population under 200,000) and LA is really big (population almost 4,000,000). There would certainly be huge hurdles to overcome in setting up a publicly owned network here. I’d like to know, though, if anybody really explored that possibility before opening this up to private companies.

My other reservation has to do with the fact that the City is offering some of its assets to the private sector in order to make the deal attractive. To a degree, this is reasonable, but I think we have to analyze this carefully to make sure we’re not compromising the City’s infrastructure or giving sweetheart deals to companies that stand to make a pile of money. In other words, we have to control the process, and we need to make sure we’re not getting ripped off.

I want to thank Stephanie Magnien Rockwell, Policy Director at Bob Blumenfield’s office, for her quick response to my e-mail asking for more information. She sent me the link to the council file on this initiative, which you’ll find below.

Council File: 13-0953, CityLinkLA

If you’re interested in getting more details, there’s tons of info here. It’s worth highlighting the fact that a number of neighborhood councils have submitted statements in support of the intitiative, though the South Robertson Neighborhood Council “requests that the City
include provisions protecting and requiring net neutrality”. Not a bad idea. For a thorough breakdown of the intitiative, click on this link to read the CAO’s analysis.

CAO’s Report on CityLinkLA Inititative

And here’s the link to the CityLinkLA web site.

CityLinkLA

This could be a real breakthrough for Los Angeles. High-speed access for all would be a huge step forward, but there are also huge risks involved. We need to stay informed and engaged as this process unfolds.

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