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By Carol Ellison  |  Posted 2005-01-07 Print this article Print

: Debate Model"> If youve heard of Kutztown, its probably because you saw the name on a road sign on your way to Pennsylvania Dutch Country. Its not far from the transportation corridors that carry cars and trucks east from the Pennsylvania Turnpike to New York City or south to Philadelphia. Kutztown is an idyllic place, the sort of place people move to when they want to escape the heat, traffic and garbage of big cities, where they go to breathe clean air, and rest assured that their children are safe at play. Kutztown is a college town, so full of charm that folks who go there once swear theyll come back to stay someday. But for too long, there was one big problem: Kutztown didnt have much staying power.
The borough lacked the technical services needed to attract and keep new businesses and big-city residents spoiled by connectivity. With only about 5,000 people living within its 1.6-square-mile territory, Kutztown wasnt what big business considered much of a market.
The cost of bringing broadband services to the community outweighed its market potential. Thus, no one was interested in providing the services and, in an evil Catch 22, the market wasnt likely to get any bigger if it didnt get the services.. "The advanced services we needed to grow economically were not here," Caruso told me. "We kind of fell off the chart." Unable to get any providers interested in its tiny market, Kutztown opted to build out a fiber network of its own and offer it for lease to private companies—as many as it could attract. It was an if-you-build-it-broadband-providers-will-come approach, and it seemed like a slam-dunk. Spared the cost of the build-out, what provider could say no? By providing a level playing field for providers to play on at the same lease rate, Kutztown would be the magnet that broadband providers could not resist ... or so it seemed. "That was the original intention," Caruso said. "But when we went after RFPs [requests for proposals], we could not find anyone who wanted to play ball with us." Neither Comcast nor any other large cable provider in Pennsylvania was interested. Neither Verizon (which does provide Kutztown with local dial-up services), nor any other large telco was interested in providing DSL. Finally, the borough did attract a regional cable company and a regional ISP to provide the connectivity Kutztown needed to launch a municipal broadband service on the network. But the situation was still not ideal. Local residents complained about high cable rates and ultimately, the borough decided to inject a little competition into the scenario by launching its own cable service. According to Caruso, the cable company immediately reduced its rates by 40 percent. With those successes under its belt, the community began to work with a regional integrator, LanTek, to build out a wireless offering. Then along came HB30, and a political stew that focused more on the age-old government-versus-business rhetoric than on what was happening—or not happening, as the case may be—out in communities such as Kutztown. The Kutztown model takes the either-or out of the equation and proves that municipal broadband need not put a municipal lock on competition. In fact, it demonstrates how municipalities can enhance competition. Next page: A muni opens its market.

Carol Ellison is editor of's Mobile & Wireless Topic Center. She has authored whitepapers on wireless computing (two on network security–,Securing Wi-Fi Wireless Networks with Today's Technologies, Wi-Fi Protected Access: Strong, Standards-based Interoperable Security for Today's Wi-Fi Networks, and Wi-Fi Public Access: Enabling the future with public wireless networks.

Ms. Ellison served in senior and executive editorial positions for Ziff Davis Media and CMP Media. As an executive editor at Ziff Davis Media, she launched the networking track of The IT Insider Series, a newsletter/conference/Web site offering targeted to chief information officers and corporate directors of information technology. As senior editor at CMP Media's VARBusiness, she launched the Web site, VARBusiness University, an online professional resource center for value-added resellers of information technology.

Ms. Ellison has chaired numerous industry panels and has been quoted as a networking and educational technology expert in The New York Times, Newsday, The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, National Public Radio's All Things Considered, CNN Headline News, WNBC and CNN/FN, as well as local and regional Comcast and Cablevision reports. Her articles have appeared in most major hi-tech publications and numerous newspapers and magazines, including The Washington Post and The Christian Science Monitor.

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