Guest Commentary: Broadband is affordableIn recent weeks I have talked with a number of people who have questions about the Broadband Initiative, the need for it, and the financing Lake County has applied for.
By: Paul Bergman, Lake County Commissioner, Lake County News Chronicle
In recent weeks I have talked with a number of people who have questions about the Broadband Initiative, the need for it, and the financing Lake County has applied for.
The county is seeking funding through a federal government program: Rural Utility Service. It’s like a non-recourse home mortgage loan, meaning if you do not make the payments, the home is foreclosed and becomes the property of the lender. Similarly, if the Broadband Initiative does not produce enough revenue to cover the loan payments, the new utility would be foreclosed and become the property of the federal government. It would then resell the utility to the highest bidder. Residents and businesses would then purchase services from the new service provider.
The money from RUS can only be used to build the infrastructure, not the operations part. So our funding proposal also requests money for day-to-day operation of the utility until it is able to generate sufficient revenue. This will come from subordinate county revenue bonds. With these bonds we pledge the revenue from the utility to make the payments on the revenue bonds, not taxpayer dollars.
None of these funding sources require any taxpayer guarantees so the taxpayers of Lake and St. Louis counties will have no obligation if the utility fails. This is clearly stated in our application materials.
Why do we need the Broadband Initiative? Many say today’s technology “is good enough.” In many cases, they might be correct. But consider this: During the time period we have been seeking funding, HDTV has been introduced and 3G and now 4G networks have come to our cell phones. Google and others are now talking about 1 gigabyte per second service coming into our homes in the near future because of need, where 1 gigabyte is what many businesses are already using.
We have to look to the future, not what is “good enough” right now. The copper wire we use now will not be good enough. The signals through copper are transmitted by electricity. With fiber, everything will be transmitted by light.
The county board took a proactive approach because federal government stimulus money is available now. We realize funding takes time. We have been waiting more than a year just for our application to be approved.
The county board took this project on because private industry did not. There are no applications from anyone else in Lake County for “last mile” applications of fiber to every home.
If we as a county want to be prepared for the future, we have to plan and construct today. If we want to have the best available technology for quality of life, personal safety and economic opportunities, we have to be planning and constructing today. We have an opportunity to take care of our future technology needs right now and not be left in the dust wondering how we can ever catch up.