Louisville Metro Government is looking to bring faster Internet connections to homes and businesses in the city.
The faster connections would make business operations easier and allow residents to apply for high-tech, work-from-home jobs at companies based outside of Louisville. And while competitiveness and economic development are the focus, the side effect of the mayor’s plan could be another Internet provider operating in Louisville.
Essentially, the city has offered to give right of way access and other benefits—though not any taxpayer money—to a company that will be able to build the necessary high-speed infrastructure. That company would then accept business—and likely residential—customers, the same way other Internet providers do.
The request isn’t an indication that Time Warner Cable—the primary provider of broadband service here—is doing a bad job in officials’ eyes, but merely that the city welcomes very high speed Internet and competition among providers, says Ted Smith, Metro Government’s director of economic growth and innovation .
“It specifically calls out our interest in seeing a competitive infrastructural landscape. We hope to be a city where lots of companies see an attractive customer base and business climate. I think that’s generally a good thing,” says Smith, adding that Time Warner may very well offer to provide the service itself upon hearing the mayor’s request.
(The difference between your standard home network and the gigabit fiber the city wants is pretty stark. Think of it like the difference between your cell phone camera and a professional photographer’s rig.)
There are other Internet providers in Louisville (AT&T U-verse and local DSL operators, for instance), but the overall shortage of competition is often a sore spot for customers. Three years ago, when the city began to renegotiate the agreement that allows Insight (which was later bought by Time Warner) to operate within Louisville, some residents said the company had a monopoly, which attorneys promptly denied.
The reason there aren’t many cable companies or ISPs in Louisville is because it’s expensive to build the infrastructure necessary to provide service. There are agreements to strike with the city and with utilities to use poles and rights of way. And that expense is often prohibitive when factored into the other costs of running a business in a market with an established set of customers already dedicated to your competitor.
While the city isn’t offering money to another operator, it is offering to help eliminate a few hurdles where it can. And the mayor’s office says this announcement may also inspire Time Warner to offer a higher-level service.
“There may be questions about what the market demand is for a higher-demand product. I think Mayor Fischer getting up and saying, ‘This is a priority for our community’ is one additional data point for an incumbent to see…I hope this signal is an important one for them in their decisions,” says Smith.
In a statement, Time Warner said it’s “interested in learning the details of Mayor Fischer’s proposal. Time Warner Cable today delivers multiple gigabit speed options to Louisville businesses and offers a wide-range of speeds and choices to city residents.”