If I Offered You Really Fast, Really Cheap Internet …

… would you care where it came from?

Back in 2003, the City of Fredericton, New Brunswick (Canada) established free, community-wide, internet access in areas designated as part of the “Fred-eZone.” The idea was to create the infrastructure for a smart community by facilitating near ubiquitous connectivity.

Users of Fred-eZone (including this one) found it remarkably forward-thinking, even if the service was intermittent in speed and quality (at least in those early days), and it was a great convenience to know that wherever you were within the zone, you could have access to the internet.

Nowadays, of course, the demand for faster access and wider bandwidths has driven most businesses to provide for their own connectivity. The problem is, that can be expensive.

So, not content to rest on its laurels, the umbrella organization responsible for Fred-eZone, e-Novations, has decided to offer commercial internet connections to local businesses at rates up to 75% less than commercially available rates, reports Entrevestor, a regional innovation and investment blog.

While this is undoubtedly great news for internet users (and really, isn’t that just about everyone?), it does at least raise the question:  Since e-Novations is owned by the City of Fredericton and therefore brings to bear resources provided by the public, doesn’t e-Novations’ dramatic discount effectively undercut the private sector firms offering the same service in the area?

That would raise the hackles of a lot of people in some parts of the business world…

Of course, it may be that prices of internet access have been so high in the region for so long that the public is just plain delighted at the lower cost.

It may also be that the public couldn’t care less about the so-called “displacement” of private sector activity, at least in this context.

Finally, it may be that what e-Novations is doing is no different than what any municipal power authority, for example, does when it buys power in quantity and passes along the savings to consumers.

My guess is that local businesses and the economic development community alike will be very pleased with the situation, at least in the near term.

I wonder, though. How would such a move play out in your community?

Would anyone be upset by the public sector competing with the private sector?

Or would most folks simply say to the private internet providers, “Quit complaining and lower your prices!”