Document Type

Article

Publication Date

7-27-2021

Abstract

Despite growing interest in broadband provided by municipally owned and operated fiber-to-the-home networks, the academic literature has yet to undertake a systematic assessment of these projects’ financial performance. To fill this gap, we utilize municipalities’ official reports to offer an empirical evaluation of the financial performance of every municipal fiber project in the U.S. operating in 2010 through 2019. An analysis of the actual performance of the resulting fifteen-project panel dataset reveals that none of the projects generated sufficient nominal cash flow in the short run to maintain solvency without infusions of additional cash from outside sources or debt relief. Similarly, 87% have not actually generated sufficient nominal cash flow to put them on track to achieve long-run solvency. In addition, 73% generated negative nominal cash flow over the past three fiscal years, leaving them poorly positioned to make up their deficits and causing them to fall farther into debt. An assessment based on the net present value of these projects’ operating cash flow indicates that 53% of projects would not be on track to breakeven even assuming the theoretical best-case performance in terms of capital expenditures and debt service. Close analysis of these projects’ performance reveals that revenue generation likely plays the most important role in generating cash flow, followed by efficiency in construction costs, then operating efficiency.

Keywords

Law & economics, municipal ownership of utilities, local government finance, telecommunication service delivery, performance evaluation, internet access, revenue bond financing, nominal cash flow, NCF, net present value, NPV

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