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Green Tech Grid asks, "Are Munis and Co-Ops Leading Smart Grid?" And the rest of the article says, "YES." This should come as no surprise for readers of this site. The dynamics, and even players, in smart-grid are very similar to those of community networks. There are essentially two approaches to smart-grid: that of the investor-owned utilities that see smart-grid investments as an opportunity to raise rates, and that of munis and coops who see an opportunity to cut costs and better serve their ratepayers.
In Leesburg's case, they knew that just an advanced meter deployment would cut their cost. "We told our commission we're not going to increase our rates because we're rolling this out," said Paul Kalv, Electric Director of Leesburg Power. "And we know we'll be reducing the customer charge to share those savings." So far the city has saved about $1 million. Kalv talks a lot about his customers. When one guy complained about his smart meter, Kalv personally went over to his house to check it out. It is that sort of on-the-ground interaction that is simply not possible for the CEO of investor-owned utilities, like Florida Power & Light Company, where Kalv worked for 22 years.
I raise this issue to note that the article discusses Leesburg and Lake County, Florida, without mentioning their investments in broadband. But when Leesburg applied for the Google Gigabit project, they noted their fiber-optic assets.
Those who believed electricity would deliver social transformation to average Americans were stymied by power companies that wouldn’t deliver enough capacity to make the latest big appliances work. Blenders, mixers, toasters and other small electrical appliances could work, assuming you didn’t have too many lights turned on at the same time, but washers, refrigerators and electric ovens were out of the question. When consumers inquired about upgrading their service, they were refused by most electric companies. After all, most power company executives believed “illumination-grade” service was more than sufficient for virtually every American. In all, they consistently refused to upgrade facilities to at least four-fifths of their customers, telling them they could make do with what they had. The electrical industry defended this position for years, and even paid for studies to defend it. A willing trade press printed numerous articles claiming the vast majority of Americans would never require higher voltage service, and it was too expensive to provide anyway. A select minority of customers, typically the super-wealthy, were the exception. In fact, marketing campaigns specifically targeted the richest neighborhoods, offering “complete service,” because the industry believed it would quickly recoup that investment. That, in their minds, wasn’t true for middle class and low income households. In fact, low income neighborhoods of families making between $2,000 and $3,000 were often bypassed by electric companies completely.The parallels to broadband are enormous and the self-interested arguments of privately-owned incumbents have not changed. Neither has the fight over public ownership, as we see in Part II:
As municipal power attracted attention, some in the private power sector balked. Not only were these companies delivering good service to customers, they were often doing it at far lower prices.
Municipalities that own and control their wireless broadband networks, operate public services more efficiently, prioritize broadband traffic for emergencies, and put unused bandwidth to use to attract new businesses, afford educational opportunities to students and in many cases, provide free broadband access to unserved or underserved residents.Tropos calls for an end to preemption on community networks.
Congress should not adopt legislation that would prohibit local governments from building and operating broadband networks to provide services within a community. Local governments should have the freedom to make decisions on how they want to provide broadband within their community.And finally, Tropos harkens back to the same political battles from one hundred years ago:
A century ago, when inexpensive electricity was available to only a small fraction of the U.S. population, incumbent suppliers of electricity sought to prevent the public sector from offering electricity for many of the same reasons incumbent broadband providers now argue against community broadband deployment and services. Back then, incumbents sought to limit competition by arguing that local governments didn’t have the expertise to offer something as complex as electricity. They argued that their own businesses would suffer if they faced competition from cities and towns. Local community leaders recognized that their economic survival and the health and welfare of their citizens depended on wiring their communities. They understood that it would take both private and public investment to bring electricity to all Americans. Fortunately, they prevailed.