This Island Town Is Building a Public Broadband Network. Is It a Model for Bridging Digital Divide?

GeekWire has the details:

Anacortes, Wash., is a picturesque town on Fidalgo Island, 90 minutes north of Seattle. Best known for its marina, it’s a popular spot for travelers to stop on their way to the San Juan Islands. But there’s something else special about this place: its municipal government, which represents a population of about 15,000 people, is about to become a high-speed internet provider.

In a few weeks, Anacortes will join a growing cohort of cities, dissatisfied enough with the private sector, that have decided to offer internet service as a public utility.

Advocates for so-called municipal broadband say the internet is as vital to daily life as electricity or clean water — and they want to see it provided in the same way. Anacortes and other municipal broadband pioneers will provide a test case and, if successful, could be a model for bridging a widening digital divide between urban and rural communities.

Establishing a municipal broadband network is no small challenge, judging from Seattle’s repeated attempts. The city’s partnership with Cincinnati-based Gigabit Squared, promising to bring gigabit Internet to thousands of residents, crumbled in 2013 after the company failed to raise enough money to implement a high-speed Internet network using the city’s dormant dark fiber network.

Further progress has stalled since 2015, when the Seattle City Council voted down a $5 million proposal to begin developing a municipal broadband network.

Officials in Anacortes have spent the past few years researching how to become an internet provider, creating a plan, and building the infrastructure necessary. This month, the city plans to pilot service in three areas. If all goes well, they will expand the service area with the goal of providing internet to the entire community by 2023.

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