The Taxpayers Protection Alliance Foundation has launched a website where users can view the litany of municipal broadband projects saddled with millions in debt.
The map shows more than 200 projects funded by taxpayers, many of them deep in financial arrears and several more that failed, either sold off for deep discounts to private providers or leaving taxpayers on the financial hook for the debt.
“Overwhelmingly, these government-owned and taxpayer-funded networks leave budgets in the red due to underestimated buildout costs, subscriber rates falling far short of projections, and issued bonds straining local budgets for years to come,” the website says.
Some choice examples:
- Sun Prairie Utilities in Wisconsin is shackled with more than $9.3 million in debt, which isn’t likely to be paid off soon because it has only 200 customers. The website notes that the network, in operation for 17 years, owes $46,623 per customer before construction costs are paid off.
- Orangeburg Broadband in South Carolina isn’t doing much better — just 300 subscribers, although Orangeburg County has more than 92,000 residents. Although the network received $14 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture it’s, still saddled with more than $4.6 million in debt.
- AccessEagan in Eagan, Minnesota, started as a relative bargain compared with most networks, with $1.5 million in taxpayer funds allocated to initial construction costs. But expansions and increased operational costs have grown that number — the network is now nearly $7.4 million in debt.
TPA points out that in all the locations documented on the website, private internet services are available.
“These networks … unfairly compete against private businesses,” the website says. “Worst of all, these projects have proven to put taxpayer dollars at risk, leaving hardworking constituents to foot the bill, often at a steep cost.”
TPA President David Williams told Watchdog.org he hopes the site will educate the public about how far-reaching and financially burdening government broadband projects can be.
“Finally people will see the truth about these taxpayer-funded networks,” he said. “All that glitters is not gold, and in the case of these networks it is fool’s gold.”