Everyone loves a good deal and it’s even better when something is free. Cities across the United States are taking notice and competing to attract new residents through discounted or cheap internet service.
So, which cities offer reduced internet prices and which are considering it? Let’s find out!
What is municipal broadband?
Municipal broadband refers to internet services provided partially or fully by local governments. The most common example is free public Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the city. However, in recent years, many cities have started to take a look at how they can offer home internet as a utility service.
So, why don’t all communities offer municipal broadband?
For one, 26 states have bans or restrictions against municipal broadband after lobbying by the cable industry. Additionally, it’s expensive to invest in and operate a high-speed internet network, especially if one doesn’t exist yet.
However, municipalities are starting to push back on bans and find new ways to invest in improved infrastructure. Earlier this year, Arkansas legislators unanimously overturned a previous legislative ban and will now allow local governments to build their own municipal broadband infrastructure.
Late in 2018, Charlemont, Mass., rejected an offer from Comcast to set up a broadband network for $450,000 and instead will build their own $1.4 million town-owned fiber network (previously approved by town voters in 2015). Why? They wanted to own their own infrastructure — even if that means a higher up-front cost — because it would save residents money over the long-term.
So, where can you go if you want internet for $40 or less — or free in some cases? Check out these 10 towns offering their own municipal broadband (and an additional one that has a partnership with a major provider).
Cities that currently offer discounted or cheap internet
This Colorado town of a little more than 94,000 offers a 100% community-owned and community-based broadband option known as NextLight Internet with speeds of either 25 Mbps for $39.95/mo. or 1 Gbps for $69.95/mo.
Both plans come with a symmetrical connection, meaning they have the same upload and download speeds. Gigabit customers who have had service for more than 12 consecutive months qualify for a Loyalty Member rate of $59.95/mo.
While NextLight Internet is one of the most expensive options on our list, it’s still well below the average $60/mo. most Americans are paying for broadband internet.
Established in 2010, Highland Communication Services offers residents eight different internet plan options with speeds ranging from 20 Mbps to 1 Gbps. Prices start at $24.95/mo. and discounts are offered on double-play and triple-play bundles that include TV and/or home phone.
On June 4, Mayor Sean Coletti tweeted that Ammon Fiber’s open access system was offering 15 Mbps (upload and download) for $1.88/mo. — the lowest they’ve ever offered it. Just a day later, he said another company is now offering the same speed for free in Ammon. Residents can also opt to upgrade to either 500 Mbps for $9.98/mo. or Gigabit internet for $9.99/mo.
Ammon is paying for the service through municipal bonds and does charge residents a fee to extend the fiber network to their home as well as a monthly maintenance fee totaling $39/mo.
As a 100% community-owned fiber-optic network, LUS Fiber offers internet plans ranging from 3 Mbps to 10,000 Mbps (10 Gbps) starting at $19.95/mo. The catch is that you have to either bundle with other services and/or sign an agreement to get low prices.
The Michigan town of more than 1,600 residents offers fiber internet of 30 Mbps (upload and download) for $35/mo., plus an additional $125 one-time fee for standard installation. Residents can also choose from other plans including 50 Mbps, 100 Mbps or 1 Gbps.
With nearly 14,000 residents, this Minnesota town offers community members 1 Gbps internet for $35.95/mo. with symmetrical upload and download speeds. While no router is needed, residents must get a FiberCenter device for $15.95/mo. to access the FiberNet internet.
In 2003, this city began offering SandyNet, an internet service provider (ISP) “owned by the people of Sandy and operated as a public service” by the city. SandyNet is a non-profit utility and operates on a break-even basis.
This allows the city to offer fiber-optic internet service of 300 Mbps (upload and download) for $39.95/mo. with no contracts or data caps. Residents can choose to upgrade to Gigabit internet for an additional $20/mo. Additionally, the city offers rural wireless to parts of the greater Sandy area at $39.95/mo. for 5 Mbps or $49.95/mo. for 10 Mbps. All plans require a $100 installation fee.
While Philadelphia doesn’t operate its own municipal broadband, it has partnered with Philly-headquartered Comcast to offer low-income internet with fewer requirements than the program typically requires. Xfinity’s Internet Essentials program offers 15 Mbps for $9.95/mo. to about 200,000 Philadelphia residents.
In 2004, the city tried to roll out Wireless Philadelphia, a publicly-owned and city-operated municipal internet project that failed miserably due to extreme opposition from Comcast and Verizon as well as poor execution.
With nearly 27,000 residents, the city of Bristol offers its community a variety of internet plan options ranging from 4 Mbps to 10 Gbps through Bristol Tennessee Essential Services. The 4 Mbps plan starts at $16.95/mo. and residents can also choose to bundle internet service with cable TV, home phone and electric.
Residents in Morristown, Tenn., can get a fiber-optic internet connection of 250 Mbps (upload and download) for $39.95/mo. with options to also choose 500 Mbps, 750 Mbps or 1 Gbps. Residents can also opt to bundle their internet with TV starting at $23.95/mo. for 26 channels and/or phone services for $32.95/mo.
This Tennessee town of 7,600 residents offers three internet plans with speeds ranging from 60 Mbps to 150 Mbps on a fiber-optic network. Their bronze plan starts at $39.55/mo. and offers speeds of 60 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload.
Cities looking into establishing their own municipal internet
Traverse City, MI
Last month, members on Traverse City Light and Power (TCLP) board took the first step to launching a city-wide fiber-optic internet project. The board approved phase one of an estimated $16 million expansion to offer city-owned internet service.
While residents expressed concern about the cost, TCLP executive director Tim Arends said he believes the city will be able to pay back the nearly $3.5 million loan for phase one, which would bring high-speed internet to about 2,200 customers as well as the downtown area.
Town Supervisor Jason Leifer is currently conducting a survey to determine whether or not Dryden should install and operate their own broadband connection. The town of nearly 15,000 residents currently relies on Clarity Connect, Frontier DSL, HughesNet or Spectrum for internet, but Leifer would like to establish a fiber-internet connection for a “rough estimate” of $12 million.
“The local government owns their own broadband system, so it would mean laying fiber down every road in the town and then hooking up subscribers as they want to,” Leifer said. “The idea is to offer it for less than Spectrum charges, and I’m hoping for faster speeds.”
New Braunfels, TX
City leaders are moving forward with a plan to invest $3.5 million into a hybrid municipal internet project that would establish the infrastructure to offer fiber-optic internet to residents.
Texas is one of the states prohibiting cities from offering their own internet services, so instead, the city must partner with an ISP. Assistant City Manager Kristi Aday told the San Antonio Business Journal that the city is “not interested in being a provider, but we can invest in the infrastructure.”
The Utah city is looking into a hybrid municipal internet option where the city would build the fiber-optic network then “make arrangements with private internet service providers to sell internet to each home.” Building the infrastructure would cost residents a mandatory $17 internet utility fee on every home’s utility bill.
Councilman Stroh Decaire said the investment would help them lure residents and businesses to Kaysville: “Is this something that’s going to support my home business? Is this going to support, you know, all of our streaming and our home automation?”
Why should local governments consider municipal broadband?
Despite the large upfront costs, a 2018 study by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University found that “most community-owned [fiber-to-the-home] networks charged less and offered prices that were clear and unchanging, whereas private ISPs typically charged initial low promotional or ‘teaser’ rates that later sharply rose, usually after 12 months.”
In 23 of the 27 markets where researchers could make direct comparisons, they found that prices for community-owned networks were between 2.9% and 50% cheaper than the lowest-cost service from a private ISP.
Additionally, a 2017 Pew Research Center study found there’s significant public support for municipal broadband options. Of the 4,000 American adults surveyed, 70% believe “local governments should be able to build their own broadband networks if existing services in the area are either too expensive or not good enough.”
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