My Turn: Municipal broadband providers are good for communities

  • John Lunt

Published: 12/21/2020 8:50:02 PM

Municipal broadband has an important role to play for 21st-century communities. Internet is increasingly recognized as critical infrastructure. Cities and towns all over the U.S.A. agree. They also recognize that they have a prominent role to play in developing and maintaining this important asset. Over 330 municipalities, including Greenfield and GCET, operate successful municipal broadband networks, and that number grows every month.

Municipalities are also well positioned to service this critical infrastructure. Americans decided long ago that there were certain infrastructure services that were so important to a functioning community that they had to be made equitably accessible to all and should not be left solely to the private market. As a result, municipalities handle multiple complex public infrastructures every day, and broadband is no different. GCET has an innovative and experienced technical team. We have seasoned, capable outside plant workers and a professional office staff. We built GCET’s network and we monitor and maintain it 24/7/365 while delivering reliable and dependable service. Just ask our customers.

In addition to reliable service, municipal broadband offers affordability and, most importantly, genuine competition in a market where functional monopolies have left consumers at the mercy of a few large companies. Unsurprisingly, a report this year shows that most consumers pay more for TV and Internet coverage than they do for most of their other utility bills combined. The average bill for bundled services is now approximately $220 per month in the U.S., and it grows every single year. A recent study out of Harvard shows that municipal broadband networks are, on average, 50% less expensive than their private counterparts. In Greenfield, that means up to $1,500 a year in savings for consumers.

Municipal broadband providers are also far more transparent in their pricing practices. Generally, consumers can pay significantly more than the advertised price from private companies when all the extra fees are revealed. Modem rental fees, broadcast TV fees, HD fees, regional sports fees, additional outlet fees, DVR fees, administrative fees — the list goes on and on. And, new this year, consumers have just been told that their plans would have an imposed data cap, exposing them to even more potential overage fees. And if you are surprised by these fees, you cannot leave, because you are locked into a contract.

Municipal broadband operates differently. Most providers have no contracts, nor do they charge a long list of additional fees. Their pricing is simple, direct and honest. For example, GCET has no hidden fees and no contracts. Our most popular TV and Internet bundle is 50 percent less than the comparable average for private companies and the price we show is the price you pay for service. No surprise additional charges.

And, as a municipal entity, we take our responsibility to the community seriously. We have options for Greenfield residents who face financial challenges during the pandemic, and we are particularly pleased to have joined with Greenfield Public Schools to create our Equity Program, which ensures that any qualifying student in our coverage area can connect at no charge to our school district’s Remote Plus learning.

Finally, municipal broadband providers are a part of their communities as a local business. That’s why people like GCET’s customer service. They know us. We’re their neighbors. They know we will always do our best to take care of them. Also, revenues tend to stay local and municipal broadband providers have become economic development assets to their towns. Reliable service, better pricing and customer service, local development, and control of critical infrastructure — this is what a municipal provider offers. It’s no wonder so many communities are getting on board.

John C. Lunt is the general manager of GCET, Greenfield Community Energy and Technology. GCET is Greenfield’s Municipal Broadband provider.

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