Despite substantial evidence of the waste and inefficiency of government-owned broadband networks (GON), Gallatin County, Montana, has become the latest government entity to agree to make such an investment. Citizens Against Government Waste has written about these projects often, including a July 2021 report, “The Folly of Government-Owned Networks,” which points out that while expanding internet access is a laudable goal, GONs are increasing. generally the financial burden of taxpayers. and rarely, if ever, provide the benefits localities seek.
In a public hearing on Tuesday, October 5, 2021, the Gallatin County Commission voted unanimously to support a $ 65 million bond to fund Bozeman Fiber’s network expansion. Before the vote, the Citizens Council Against Government Waste urged the Gallatin County Commission to avoid this fate.
The Bozeman Broadband Boondooggle began in 2015, when members of the Bozeman business community joined the Town of Bozeman, Bozeman Public Schools and County Gallatin to develop a “modern gigabit fiber optic network to support local businesses, attract new businesses and help ensure economic growth”. As a result of these efforts, Bozeman Fiber, Inc., was formed as a nonprofit organization in order to escape a Montana prohibition on GON. Since then, the company has laid a 25-mile fiber optic cable ring and recently announced plans to expand beyond buildings run by the Town of Bozeman, Bozeman Public Schools, Gallatin County and two hundred business customers.
To finance the expansion, Bozeman Fiber appealed to the Gallatin County Commission for issuing a $ 65 million bond. The initial plan calls for the construction of fiber-optic infrastructure in the town of Bozeman itself, an area which already has access to five Internet service providers, rather than rural areas which need most. The plan is therefore based on the belief that a sufficient number of Bozeman residents will leave their current suppliers and select a new one through Bozeman Fiber, making further expansion into rural Gallatin County financially possible, even though broadnow.com shows that 88.9% of Gallatin County already has access to speeds of at least 25 Mbps, while 85.3% of residents have access to 100 Mbps.
Another concern for the success of the project, however, is Bozeman Fiber’s relationship with the Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency (UTOPIA) fiber, a company owned by eleven Utah cities. UTOPIA, which will manage “network design, engineering and construction oversight, materials management, remote network monitoring, procurement, computer systems and the operation of a supplier market. of service “, has a history of failures and setbacks.
Like Bozeman Fiber, UTOPIA was initially funded in 2004 with a $ 185 million bond with the promise of becoming financially viable within five years. Instead, UTOPIA Fiber currently holds $ 330.2 million in debt and is operating at a loss. Bozeman Fiber and UTOPIA both run the risk of following the iProvo path, a GON attempt in Provo, Utah, sold to Google Fiber for the grand sum of a dollar. To make matters worse, the iProvo project left taxpayers $ 39 million in debt of a construction obligation after the city “found the operation too intimidating and entrusted it to a succession of private partners who struggled to strike a balance”.
These lessons, in addition to the various red flags raised by the lack of transparency in Bozeman Fiber’s operations, its relationship with UTOPIA Fiber and the potential for corruption, should serve as a warning to Gallatin County and local communities throughout. the country. Instead of forcing residents to adopt and then bail out government-owned grids, local governments should cut red tape and allow consumers to choose the technologies that best suit their needs, whether it’s fiber or fiber. Another option like cable, DSL, fixed wireless, 5G, mobile broadband or satellite.