City Utilities (CU), Springfield, Missouri’s city-owned electric utility, recently announced plans to expand its fiber optic network to every home in the city and lease excess fiber—on a nonexclusive basis—to the internet service provider (ISP) CenturyLink. CenturyLink, in turn, will offer high-speed fiber broadband services citywide and pay for marketing and customer service costs. This structure between a public utility and a private ISP replicates a model pioneered by Huntsville Utilities and Google Fiber three years ago in Huntsville, Ala.
It’s called the “utility lease model,” and Springfield’s announcement demonstrates that it isn’t just a one-off. There’s reason for optimism that this new approach could start scaling to address both the digital divide and smart city goals in the years to come.