Despite substantial evidence of the waste and ineffectiveness 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. Ahead of the vote, the Citizens Council Against Government Waste urged the Gallatin County Commission to avoid this fate.
The Bozeman Broadband Boondoggle began in 2015, when members of the Bozeman business community joined with the Town of Bozeman, Bozeman Public Schools and Gallatin County to develop a ‘modern gigabit fiber network to support local businesses, attract new businesses and help ensure the economy grows. ”As a result of these efforts, Bozeman Fiber, Inc., was formed as a non-profit organization in order to escape a ban on Montana on GON. Since then, the company has laid a 25-mile fiber optic cable ring and recently announced plans to extend beyond the buildings run by the Town of Bozeman, Bozeman Public Schools, the Gallatin County and two hundred commercial customers.
To finance the expansion, Bozeman Fiber appealed to the Gallatin County Commission to issue a $ 65 million bond. The initial plan calls for building fiber-optic infrastructure in the town of Bozeman itself, an area that already has access to five internet service providers, rather than the rural areas that need it most. The plan is therefore based on the belief that a sufficient number of Bozeman residents will leave their current suppliers and choose a new one through Bozeman Fiber, making it financially possible for further expansion into rural Gallatin County, even though broadnow.com shows that 88.9 percent of Gallatin County already has access to speeds of 25 or more Mbps, while 85.3 percent 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 towns in Utah. 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 has debt of $ 330.2 million and is operating at a loss. Both Bozeman Fiber and UTOPIA run the risk of going the way of iProvo, an attempt by GON in Provo, Utah, sold to Google Fiber for the grand sum of a dollar. To make matters worse, the iProvo project left taxpayers with a debt of $ 39 million from a construction bond after the city “found the deal too intimidating and handed it over to a succession of private partners who struggled to 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 networks, local governments should cut red tape and allow consumers to choose the technologies that best suit their needs, whether it’s fiber or another option such as cable, DSL, fixed wireless, 5G, mobile broadband or satellite.