Public-private partners can best deliver services

Consolidating state-run and private-sector efforts to stimulate high-speed Internet deployment in rural New York is the right approach (“Questionnaire to focus on high-speed broadband,” Dec. 26 News). In rural states where budgets are already tight, it’s critical to leverage and support private-sector development with targeted public–private partnerships instead of relying on risky public works that usually leave taxpayers holding the bag.

America’s existing broadband network has been built with $1.2 trillion in private funds, but targeted state and federal funds have helped the companies fill in the gaps in rural areas. Unfortunately, in many places seemingly persuasive high-tech salesmen have been telling municipalities they can save a buck by skipping the market and building networks themselves.

The results should be a cautionary tale for any town or county considering this approach. Taxpayers in Provo, Utah, spent $40 million on network infrastructure they sold for just $1 a few years later. Millions more have been lost in places like Marietta, Ga., and Groton, Conn., that have fallen victim to this pitch. Even big urban areas have found that running a profitable broadband business is harder than it looks.

Big promises often lead to big disappointments. Common sense suggests that public-private partnerships can be trusted to deliver the services and results our communities need.

Niel Ritchie

Executive Director

Mainstreet Project