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Baltimore broadband offers huge potential

Sen. Catherine Pugh's commentary, "Municipal broadband's false promise" (Aug. 16), is flawed by many serious errors and omissions. Whoever is advising her on this issue is doing her and the people of Baltimore a disservice.

Senator Pugh claims that municipalities "keep building expensive networks that fail to attract customers." In fact, the national average take rate of public fiber networks (39 percent) is virtually indistinguishable from that of companies such as Verizon and AT&T (40 percent).

She also contends that a "long pantheon" of municipal projects have failed. Of the eight examples she provides, only one (Provo) involved a fiber project, and that project was crippled by a state law that incumbent carriers obtained to thwart potential competition.

To be sure, a few municipal broadband initiatives have struggled. But they are a tiny fraction of the more than 400 municipal projects operating in the United States, including 89 fiber-to-the-home projects. Of the 400, several have been spectacularly successful, and the vast majority are covering their costs while providing superior services, better customer support, and often lower prices.

Quoting me as saying that community broadband projects "are more challenging now than they've ever been," Senator Pugh implies that even I now agree with her. I don't. While the private sector is now making low-bandwidth broadband services more widely available, municipalities today are focusing on high-end networks that can simultaneously support robust economic development, lifetime educational and occupational opportunities, affordable access to modern health care, intelligent transportation systems, and much more. Yes, this is more challenging, but it also offers tremendous opportunities both for communities and for America's global competitiveness.

"The beginning of wisdom is to desire it." By exploring its broadband options, Baltimore is doing just that. Senator Pugh should reserve judgment until the facts are in.

Jim Baller, Washington, D.C.

The writer is president of the Baller Herbst Law Group and has been involved in more than 50 fiber projects across the United States.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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