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Jun 12, 2024
3 min

Understanding the 3-Layer Open Access Model for Municipalities

A man pointing at a laptop with analytical data displayed on the screen

Open access networks (OANs) operated by municipalities have gained popularity in North America in recent years to deliver connectivity and competition. Most OANs are deployed by municipalities serving their own communities, usually as part of public-private partnerships.


A Deeper Look at the OAN Landscape in the United States and Canada

Regulatory conditions in the US are generally less favorable to municipally owned networks than elsewhere in the world.  However, OANs are benefiting from increased funding opportunities from both private and government sources. The government supports these ventures via initiatives such as the US Broadband Equity, Access, and Development (BEAD) program. Advocates of open access are campaigning for OANs to become recipients of the current US administration’s $100 billion digital infrastructure plan.


What Is the 3-Layer Model for Open Access?

The defining feature of an OAN is the structural separation of the underlying infrastructure from the layer that delivers the service to the end consumer. This means that one (or more) companies own and operate the network, supporting multiple retail service providers (RSPs) at the retail level. 

There are variations in how this model is arranged. A “two-layer” model features a single network owner/operator, plus the RSPs. In a “three-layer” model, the network is owned by one company—typically a municipality—while a second company operates and maintains the network, the third is multiple RSPs. 

  1. The first layer is passive infrastructure and consists of the conduit and physical cables that create the network. This is typically the municipality, but can be anyone from a private telco, a utility, a co-op, an investor, or a community. 

  2. The second layer is the active or operations layer, lighting up the physical network with electronics. It is managed (and often owned) by the Communications Operator. 

  3. The third layer is the service layer and consists of all the services delivered and sold over the network. Core services include internet, telephone, and TV services—but specialized services such as telehealth and home security are increasingly offered too.

Open Access Models in US

Regardless of the arrangement, the OAN operator allows RSPs onto the network, offering standard terms and pricing to all providers. The OAN operator would not act as an RSP itself. This allows the RSPs on the OAN to compete to sign up customers. Subscribers should be able to switch between RSPs seamlessly and even select different services from different providers on the same OAN.

Using a 3-Layer Model for OANs can help municipalities simplify their offering and enable healthy competition on top of the passive infrastructure they provide. Because multiple RSPs can offer services on the top layer, subscribers and cities get the benefit of having options.

While OANs are not as popular in the United States as they are in Europe and other countries, there is a trend emerging that will encourage more municipalities to opt for the 3-layer model. Municipalities that start exploring these options now will be better prepared for the future. 

To learn more about OANs, download our eBook, “How Open Access Can Help Municipalities Deliver High-Speed Broadband and Competition to Communities.

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