Fiber Is it important for a city to have ubiquitous high-speed fiber for its residents?

The Greater Baltimore Committee thinks high-speed Internet service is critical for Baltimore and recently held a symposium at the University of Baltimore Merrick School of Business, hosted by Dean Darlene Smith, on how to go about getting it.

Baltimore is one of 1,150 cities and communities vying for Google’s much-anticipated “Fiber for Communities” project. The winner(s) will have their city or community wired with high-speed fiber-optic cable, giving residents Internet speeds of one gigabit per second.

Tom Loveland, Baltimore’s “Google Czar,” says it’s not just about Google but about adding high-speed fiber and making Baltimore a global innovation leader.

What exactly are the benefits of high-speed fiber and why is it necessary? They’re a little fuzzy but center around:

  • An anticipated explosion in home-based and entrepreneurial businesses.
  • A desire on the part of world-class companies to have it.
  • Huge opportunities for education.
  • Benefits we can’t even imagine yet.

Lafayette, Louisiana City Parish President Joey Durel and former Fort Wayne, Ind., Mayor Graham Richard, who appeared at the symposium via a live video feed, spoke about their cities’ approaches to achieving a high-speed fiber rollout. Lafayette’s approach was to get in the wholesale business of wiring their city financed with a municipal bond offering. Fort Wayne’s approach was to partner with Verizon to get it done.

The options for building it in Baltimore include:

  • Win the Google prize.
  • Wait for Verizon or another commercial enterprise to build it.
  • A government-funded initiative.
  • Some type of public/private partnership.

Durel equated the discussions about whether Lafayette should build a fiber network with similar arguments 100 years ago with the advent and rollout of electricity. We all know how that turned out.

Is a high-speed fiber network a critical function of government, a utility of sorts? Or should it be left solely to the private sector to finance and implement? If it is built, what’s the best way to get it done? What do you think?