Portland looks at broadband plan

After a series of fits and starts, the Portland City Council will hear a proposal for the city’s broadband plan today. The highly anticipated plan comes after the city backed away from an earlier version that would’ve cost nearly a half billion dollars. City officials want to create a high-speed, city administered broadband network to support the growing community of high-tech companies and increase Portland’s overall competitiveness.

The plan being presented today is a far cry from the comprehensive and expensive plan of 2007 and does not require an up or down vote from the council. Under the terms of the new plan, the city says it is looking to ‘collaborate,’ with incumbent providers such as Comcast which currently serves most of the city, to provide the additional infrastructure without creating a large bill for the city. City officials, which once wanted a comprehensive broadband system throughout Portland, will push that goal back to 2020.

Right now, access to high-speed broadband throughout Portland and the surrounding metro area is relatively high, but so is the cost. According to city officials, with only a few providers covering the entire area, those prices are expected to remain high and that creates an affordability problem for individuals and businesses who need the service. The city would like to provide a lower cost access alternative.

Low cost, city administered broadband may be a tough sell if other municipal broadband cases are any indication. Additionally, critics of the plan say that it does not work hard enough to increase overall speed which is irregular and comes at a significant cost. There are allowances in the plan to offer cost subsidies for high capacity users and encouragements for more build-outs by incumbent providers although neither option touches on speed directly.