Providence Journal: Government-owned broadband is wrong for RI taxpayers

Providence Journal: Government-owned broadband is wrong for RI taxpayers

By Tim Wilkerson

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives, but it also gave us a glimpse into our internet-enabled future. Seemingly overnight, we transitioned to a world where Zoom calls replaced meetings, remote learning replaced classrooms and telemedicine replaced visits to the doctor’s office. While some things are returning to pre-pandemic norms, many of these changes are here to stay, shaping a society and an economy powered by reliable, equitable broadband.

Robust network infrastructure has carried us to this point, but as we begin to envision a post-pandemic world, we must maintain, expand and improve high-speed internet for everyone, so they can live, work and thrive in a more connected future.

However, flush with a once-in-a-generation infusion of federal taxpayer dollars, some elected officials in Rhode Island are unfortunately supporting the buildout of costly and inefficient government-owned broadband networks. This would be an expensive mistake that could derail the state’s recovery from the pandemic and put a future burden on taxpayers to maintain these complicated systems.

Such projects have historically been financial failures for cities and states nationwide, and in New England. In Burlington, Vermont, the city tried to build its own broadband network and was unable to service the millions of dollars in debt from the project. The city’s credit rating was eventually downgraded, and it sold the system, delivering a significant loss to taxpayers. Similarly, Groton, Connecticut sold their government-owned network for a $30-million taxpayer loss. Cape Cod was faced with nearly the same situation now confronting Rhode Island. They chose to direct $32 million of the 2009 federal stimulus package into a taxpayer-funded broadband network. That network, OpenCape, cost taxpayers $9.2 million dollars between 2014-2019.

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