Texas City Considers Funneling Taxpayer Money into Broadband

Johnny Kampis

November 20, 2018

This article was originally appeared in the Daily Caller on November 15, 2018.

Even though customers in New Braunfels, Texas, can already access lightning-fast broadband speeds exceeding one gigabit per second, the City Council there seems intent on building a fiber backbone that would connect businesses using taxpayer money.

The Council recently issued a request for qualifications seeking internet service providers (ISPs) to partner with the city. The city wants to use $3.5 million in taxpayer funds to build a dark-fiber network spanning 55 miles, with the chosen ISP providing the “last mile” connecting businesses to the network. Of course, the $3.5 million is merely an estimate and the costs could rise significantly.

That’s what recently happened with KentuckyWired, the statewide broadband network that has seen massive cost overruns. Bluegrass State taxpayers could be on the hook for as much as $1.5 billion, the state auditor there said.

Like that project, New Braunfels is seeking to build the “middle mile.”

“We’re not interested in being a provider, but we can invest in the infrastructure,” Assistant City Manager Kristi Aday told San Antonio Business Journal. “We are the second-fastest growing city in the country, but we are light on fiber.”

New Braunfels isn’t quite as light on fiber as it may first appear. The city is basing its decisions on a 2015 study from Denver-based Magellan Advisors.

But the researchers of Magellan nary have a single instance of the company telling municipalities that projects aren’t feasible.

If you pore over the various reports scattered across the web, posted by cities and counties in which consultants have researched broadband, it’s hard to find an example in which a consultant told a government not to offer high-speed internet in some capacity, whether it’s building a full-fledged utility-operated network or a fiber-optic backbone onto which providers could connect.

One hundred-plus page reports often offer little more than a selective batch of cherry-picked numbers and assumptions, which politicians can then simplify and feed to voters.

The landscape has changed significantly since the Magellan study, with Charter, in particular, greatly expanding its high-speed internet availability.

In a letter to New Braunfels Mayor Barron Casteel last month, Charter Regional Senior Director Jeff Burdett pointed out that Charter has invested $21 billion in infrastructure and technology improvements across its footprint, including in Cornal and Guadalupe counties.

Charter’s Spectrum now provides 1 gigabit-per-second speed to residential and business customers in New Braunfels, with customers able to assess 10 Gbps, the letter says. Spectrum WiFi is a network of public wireless internet access points, with 630 such hotspots available in New Braunfels, Burdett noted.

Burdett wrote:

Technology evolves, and improves, rapidly. Having the most up-to-date information on what existing service providers are offering your constituents – and having that information prior to consideration of novel arrangements with untested service providers that may not have the ability to deliver promised benefits or on financial promises – is critically important.

New Braunfels shouldn’t rely on three-year-old data on which to base its decisions in 2018. Since 2015, the Texas city has not only seen robust offerings from the likes of Charter but the promise just on the horizon of wireless 5G and its gigabit-capable speeds.

New Braunfels should heed the warnings of other communities and avoid wasting taxpayer money on this endeavor.