MB Link Broadband Fiber
Mont Belvieu, Texas
Nathan Watkins, City Manager
Scott E. Swigert, Assistant City Manager
Dalton Rice, Management Analyst
MB Link, a fiber-to-the-home network, is Mont Belvieu’s exclusive and newest utility and a first for the state of Texas. It promises to deliver “Internet at the Speed of Life.”
The idea for MB Link was spurred by the reality that internet services throughout the area were inadequate. In 2016 the city opened discussions with telecom companies in attempts to provide more reliable internet, but they were unsuccessful even after the city offered to pay for installation. The city council and staff concluded that Mont Belvieu would have to come up with an innovative solution and provide the service on its own.
The city started by filing a lawsuit in 2017 referencing case law from the 1900s that allowed home rule cities to provide electrical services. State law was unclear whether a city could issue debt for a broadband project. The city argued that in the Twenty-first Century, internet access is as essential to life as water and electricity, and cities should be able to provide it. The judge ruled in favor of Mont Belvieu and opined that nothing prohibited a city from providing internet service.
City staff began working with consultants to develop a business model, establish the necessary infrastructure, place more than 75 miles of fiber, connect existing homes and businesses, and build a foundation to fully own and operate the broadband service.
With full support of the city council and the community, Mont Belvieu was able to issue bonds without raising the tax rate. The initial project, which involved establishing the infrastructure, connecting to existing homes, and hiring MB Link staff, came in under budget at $13 million. The remaining capital has been used to expand the MB Link infrastructure and ensure that all newly developed businesses and residents can enjoy the service. Current projections are that MB Link will be cash flow positive in the next five to eight years; however, these projections exclude potential revenue sources such as long-term leases of fiber and data center colocation agreements.
Since its launch in June 2018, MB Link has performed well on established measures of success. For example:
- More than 700 Mont Belvieu residents committed during pre-launch signup.
- The service has more than1,600 residential and 30 commercial customers and exceeded its three-year projections in less than 12 months.
- The service achieved a 60 percent penetration rate in the initial 12 months of operations and projected a rate exceeding 90 percent in new developments.
- MB Link’s customer service earned a Public Interface Award from the Greater Houston Chapter of ASPA.
Mont Belvieu was invited to speak at the Broadband Communities Summit in Austin in 2019 and continues to be a model for municipalities around the country. Because of its small size, others ask “How did Mont Belvieu do it?” MB Link is a testament to the success municipalities can achieve in the best interest of the community and serves as a case study and benchmark for municipal broadband across the nation.