Rancho Santa Fe is currently at the forefront of a larger debate happening nationwide. The debate surrounds the notion of whether communities should be allowed to control their own information highways or whether the industry should continue down the traditional path of provider-owned and controlled broadband infrastructure.
Last March, the White House announced its goal for all Americans to have access to high-speed broadband networks. In doing so, the White House is:
"[C]alling on the private sector, local, state, and Tribal governments, community organizations and foundations to work with us to tackle some of the big challenges, like opening up critical data sources around the country and helping communities become ‘broadband ready’ to encourage more investment.”
This action has been made possible, in part, due to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) decision last February that shifted regulatory policy toward encouraging high-speed broadband Internet infrastructures to be built more like public utilities than privately held investments.
This policy opens the door wider for communities, like Rancho Santa Fe, to build and control their own fiber-optic broadband networks with more confidence and latitude with respect to their legal and regulatory authority to do so.
This week, the Broadband Opportunity Council, launched by President Obama last March, released four new recommendations:
Modernize Federal programs to expand program support for broadband investments.
Empower communities with tools and resources to attract broadband investment and promote meaningful use.
Promote increased broadband deployment and competition through expanded access to Federal assets.
Improve data collection, analysis, and research on broadband.
Cities in the United States have some of the slowest download speeds compared to other nations. Nearly 51 million Americans cannot purchase Internet speeds faster than 25 Mbps. Rancho Santa Fe is no stranger to this reality.
Part of the reason for the slow speed and high price of Internet is that state and local laws have often prevented municipal broadband development by encouraging purely private development projects. So, in rural communities, like Rancho Santa Fe, where there is low-density, consumers struggle to find a private service provider to make the infrastructure investments.
This is simply a function of the market place: Why would a provider spend $10 million building a fiber network for 2,000 homes in Rancho Santa Fe when that same infrastructure cost could serve 20,000 homes where the density is much higher?
This is why Rancho Santa Fe’s Internet has not seen an upgrade in a long time. But, with the RSF Association looking to more innovative investment and development models, service in the Covenant could go from terrible to exceptional relatively soon.
Last week, the Association sent out a “Request for Qualifications and Proposal” to potential service providers interested in a public/private partnership with the Covenant.
Rancho Santa Fe would not be the first community to do so, but they do have the opportunity to be a part of the growing movement toward looking at broadband as a community asset, and not a private one.
Some argue that municipalities and private communities like Rancho Santa Fe should leave broadband infrastructure projects to the ‘free market.’ Others argue that a ‘free market’ can only exist if communities make the investments necessary to attract qualified service providers into the community in the first place.
Either way, there is going to be a long and perhaps contentious road ahead as policy meets practicality. And by all indications, Rancho Santa Fe is at the forefront of this national issue.