Towns And Cities Keep Ditching Comcast To Build Their Own Broadband Networks

from the ill-communication dept

We’ve long talked about the more than 750 towns, cities, and counties that have responded to US broadband market failure by building their own broadband networks. We’ve also talked at length about how data has shown these networks often offer better service at lower, more transparent prices than their purely private sector counterparts, whose apathy has only grown in the wake of limited competition. And, of course, we’ve talked at great length about the 21 state laws giant ISPs have quite literally written and purchased in a bid to try and keep this phenomenon from taking root.

Those protectionist efforts aren’t working all that well.

In states like Massachusetts, there are countless towns and cities that either only have the choice of expensive Comcast cable broadband, or antiquated Verizon DSL lines the company simply refuses to upgrade (despite countless billions in subsidies, regulatory perks, and tax breaks). After years of apathy from entrenched incumbents, these towns and cities have slowly but surely peeled off and begun building their own networks.

Like Alford, Massachusetts, population 486, which now has faster speeds than many cities after locals grew tired waiting for local incumbents. After city residents there decided to build their own fiber network, they’re enamoured with the fact that the kids aren’t angry when they come home for vacation:

“The 20-year-olds were home over the holidays, and we had no problem with the four of us [using the internet],” said Peter Puciloski, who is chairman of the town’s Broadband Committee. “In the past, we would get warnings that we hit our monthly 50 gigs or something. But there are no limitations here.”

Another town, Charlemont, Massachusetts, has been begging Comcast to deliver broadband for the better part of the last two decades. They too decided to build their own, faster (and uncapped) fiber network, in large part because residents felt that direct ownership would provide them greater control. It’s all part of a quest by countless rural towns and cities to avoid the economic and cultural pitfalls of being connectivity backwaters in the information age:

“Part of what you want to conserve in small towns is the fact that there?s families. There?s multigenerational opportunities. That?s going away because of the lack of broadband. Young families aren?t coming out the same way, because they can?t make a living,? she said. ?No town should be mostly populated by mostly 65-and-older folks. That?s not the richness of a rural community.”

For decades now, ISP lobbyists, think tankers, consultants, and other hired policy tendrils have gone out of their way to demonize community broadband as a “perverse form of socialism,” ignoring that this is a purely organic, democratic response to market failure. One that wouldn’t be happening if the United States actually cared about fostering competition in broadband, or holding giant lumbering natural monopolies accountable for what should be obvious failures. These areas aren’t getting into the broadband business because they think it’s fun, they’re doing it because the US broadband market is painfully, obviously broken.

You need a combination of competition and adult regulatory oversight to drive solutions to these broken markets. Instead, we’ve currently embraced federal policies that effectively rubber stamp every idiotic desire of giants like Comcast. We then stand around with a dumb look on our collective faces as US consumers pay some of the highest rates in the developed world for substandard service that is unevenly deployed. Community broadband isn’t some mystical panacea that cures everything (and can certainly have pitfalls if business models are poorly designed), but when done properly it’s a wonderful way to light a fire under the asses of some of the laziest, government-pampered, natural monopolies America has to offer.

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Comments on “Towns And Cities Keep Ditching Comcast To Build Their Own Broadband Networks”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I just took Amtrak from a town of ~20,000 people to a town of ~70,000 people. I got on the train alone; several people got off with me. Both towns have sorta-airports (fields that they keep the sheep off of, sorta-airports.) Economy of scale don’t work when there ain’t no scale.

The U.S. is mostly just too spread out, and population centers too concentrated, for trains to work–if people have a choice. But there are very very few routes where trains can compete effectively with ALL of airplanes, autos, and buses. Mostly, either an auto is much more efficient at going exactly where you want to go, or an airplane is much faster at getting you close to where you want to go (or both.)

In flyover country, it’s gonna be cars and buses–unless you have an insane megalamaniac driving the nation into bankruptcy building stuff just for “national pride.” A pity it may be–I enjoy riding the train. But reality has its limits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

AmTrak is losing money and the taxpayers have to keep funding them. Generally, flying is cheaper and a lot faster than taking Amtrak.

The U.S. is greatly spread out. Lots and lots of suburbs. Not a high population density. It’s pretty hard to get around without a car. The problem with trains is they need a track. You put a track down at great expense and there’s not enough people to even remotely justify the cost. Maybe there is at first for a few years, things change and now not enough riders and so it becomes yet another track just wasting away like so many others. Same even goes with Subway systems. There’s subway stops that have closed up and just sit there wasting away as there’s not enough riders to justify opening it back up.

Japan with its High-Speed Rails are losing money!!! Then you get the unions in and its not remotly cost effective anymore. They want more and more and more, and yet ticket prices can’t go up that fast or people won’t ride the system. It’s lose, lose. In some countries, it makes a lot of sense.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The problem with trains is they need a track. You put a track down at great expense and there’s not enough people to even remotely justify the cost.

The same could be said about air travel, which is subsidized in various ways too. Railroads historically paid for their own tracks and stations, while airports were often built with public funds.

Personanongrata says:

A Government of Criminals by Criminals for Criminals

We then stand around with a dumb look on our collective faces as US consumers pay some of the highest rates in the developed world for substandard service that is unevenly deployed.

Wow, reads just like the worthless health care scheme (ie Affordable Care Act) that was foisted upon an unsuspecting nation by the executive (ie Obama) while being aided and abetted by congress and the insurance lobby.

What is the common denominator between the regulation of building/operating broadband networks and a national health insurance scheme?

The US government – rather than use the authority granted via consent of the governed to force industries to work in the public interest the US government allows US citizens to be exploited so their wealth may be extracted.

Nice government – not only does it help corporations fleece it’s citizens using tissue paper thin control fraud schemes it also will torture, indefinitely detain incognito/incommunicado with out charge, murder and steal your children to use as poverty draft cannon-fodder in it’s wholly elective wars based upon lies on the other side of the planet under the guise of defense of the nation (HAHA chicken-hawk war mongers).

Personanongrata says:

Re: Re: A Government of Criminals by Criminals for Criminals

Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2019 @ 1:47pm

Yeah, we had the best health care system in the world and then they utterly destroyed it.

You can see the trees but you are lost in the forest.

It has nothing to do with the type of health care scheme that was in place before the Affordable Care Act and everything to do with the governments half-assed jury-rigged result which in reality should be titled:

No Health Insurer Left Behind

There is no silver bullet panacea solution to providing access to health care but bending your citizens over the barrel and allowing insurance companies to pump them in the keister repeatedly is way down at the bottom of the list of potential solutions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 A Government of Criminals by Criminals for Crimi

Sarcasm doesn’t play out too well in a message post. It may sound sarcastic enough in your head as you type it, but unless it’s really in people’s face, they won’t pick up on it. So generally if you put a /s people know.

As for Obamacare. When the Democrats say you have to pass it to know what is in it. I have a problem with that. Also passing it in the dead of night without a single Republican vote. Forcing people to buy Insurance. WOW!!

I’m sure it was great for all the freeloaders that got free or greatly discounted. But for everyone else, they had to pay for YOU. The simple fact is, the Government doesn’t have any money. It STEALS the money it wants from the Taxpayers. Only around 50% even pay federal taxes. If you pay them but get all your money back when you file taxes, you’re not a taxpayer. How is it FAIR that half pay nothing? Everyone should pay the exact same percentage. If it’s 10%, 10% of $50,000 is a whole lot less than 10% of $1,000,000 or more. So the rich are still paying more. It should be a flat tax with no loopholes. Fair is fair.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 A Government of Criminals by Criminals for C

“you have to pass it to know what is in it”

I was equally shocked at this statement at the time, however after some thought it has become apparent that this statement implies congressional members had no idea what was contained within said bill because they did not write it and had little time to review it before the scheduled vote. Typical political maneuvering that needs to stop.

“Forcing people to buy Insurance”
– Yes, that is horrible – and sure enough, that dude that hit me is uninsured.

” freeloaders that got free or greatly discounted”
– You mean those destitute people or the whining corporations?

“Only around 50% even pay federal taxes. If you pay them but get all your money back when you file taxes, you’re not a taxpayer. “
– Mitt Romney? Is that really you?
This silliness was debunked multiple times years ago and yet you still regurgitate it upon demand.

“Everyone should pay the exact same percentage.”
– This is silly for obvious reasons, perhaps you should investigate.

“Fair is fair.”
– LOL … the deck is stacked in favor of those with the monetary funding to bribe the dealer and you call that fair – wow

Personanongrata says:

Re: Re: A Government of Criminals by Criminals for Criminals

Anonymous Coward, 3 Jan 2019 @ 1:53pm

Re: A Government of Criminals by Criminals for Criminals
I mean, god forbid anyone have access to affordable healthcare. What kind of country would we be if we provided everyone with pre-existing conditions health insurance?

We would be a civilized nation that recognizes that health care should never be commodified.

A nation that puts human beings before corporate profits.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: A Government of Criminals by Criminals for Criminals

People are already paying 100% for their healthcare. The issue is how much we’re paying.

In a Medicare For All type system, which countries like Canada, France, Germany, and Sweden have, there’s only about a 3% overhead for administrative costs at most, whereas in the for profit system we have now, we pay an extra 20% on top of the actual costs to keep the shareholders and CEOs of the insurance companies happy.

So the issue is, do you want to pay $100 more in taxes every month into a single payer system, get everything covered and not have any more costs, or would you prefer to pay Blue Cross, Aetna, UHC, etc $500+ in premiums, then pay more for FSAs, HSAs, deductibles, copayments, plus face coverage caps, and possibly have your procedures denied outright?

Exactly. That’s why even a plurality of Republicans currently support Medicare for All, and even conservatives in Europe don’t want a system like we have now and would rather have their own single payer system.

Robert Beckman says:

Re: Re: Re:2 A Government of Criminals by Criminals for Crimi

I need to correct an error here: government healthcare payers do not have a 3% overhead the way you think of it.

If you read CMS (Center for Medicare Services) financial statements, they claim every dollar paid to a provider (ex: doctors) as part of their medical spend, with dollars paid to their staff as overhead.

So far, so good right? Except that Medicare fraud is rampant, and those fraudulently paid dollars are counted as being paid for medical expenses, so in a world with $1 in legitimate need, $98 in fraud, and $1 in administrative costs, CMS would report a 1% overhead.

Commercial health plans do more to prevent, reduce, or recapture fraud (and just plain error) than CMS does, but for them it’s counted as an administrative cost, so it’s included in their overhead. Basically, the accounting is done differently, but then we try to compare statistics that were built in different accounting practices as if they were the same.

Background: I identify billions of dollars a year in healthcare errors and fraud each year, and CMS is one of my clients. They also limit what can be done more than any commercial payer.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: A Government of Criminals by Criminals for Criminals

Dude, don’t. We are talking about broadband. Sure there are other problems to be solved but if we think this way nothing will be done. Specially because some stuff will help solve other when taken care of. As the article points out, not having decent connectivity is an economic pitfall. And if your economy is frozen then you don’t have the money to solve the rest of the problems you mentioned.

Don’t fall into that trap.

Anonymous Coward says:

Spontaneous local action?

this ain’t some spontaneous broadband initiative by citizens in small Massachusetts towns — it’s a political program by the Democrat state government.

For example, that AlfordLink in Alford Massachusetts was started and heavily subsidized by the state government thru its “Massachusetts Broadband Institute” department.

Unlikely that Alford citizens would have approved “AlfordLink” if they had to pay its actual costs — Massachusetts taxpayers are subsidizing it. Hidden tax subsidies are commonplace in all these supposedly lower-cost municipal broadband systems.
Alford residents are charged $110 per month for the new municipal service.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Spontaneous local action?

… and?

In states like Massachusetts, there are countless towns and cities that either only have the choice of expensive Comcast cable broadband, or antiquated Verizon DSL lines the company simply refuses to upgrade (despite countless billions in subsidies, regulatory perks, and tax breaks).

Between paying extra taxes for high-speed, no caps connection run by the local government, and paying extra taxes to make up for subsidies and tax breaks enjoyed by the likes of Comcast and company and hoping that they can get around to maybe at some point in the future offering something remotely resembling a decent connection, the choice seems pretty obvious to me.

If the major companies actually offered decent service at a sane price then towns wouldn’t be jumping through the hoops to do the job themselves. Since they’re not however, the local governments(city and state) are forced to step up and take up the slack.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Spontaneous local action?

The truth is that the MBI was very resistant to funding muni-broadband. It took tremendous grassroots efforts and a transfer of most of the money to Housing and Economic Development for the money to be released to towns for munis. All this under a Republican governor.

The state offered money in other towns as well and wherever Comcast or Frontier expressed interest, they typically offered more money to these private firms to sweeten the deal.

In Alford, none of the private telecoms expressed interest at all. In Charlemont, Comcast did, and would have received the state money that went instead to the town’s muni.

Alford residents are paying $110/mo because they receive no on-going subsidy from the state and need to ensure that they operate in the black from day one. Maybe this gives you a better idea why Comcast wasn’t interested.

Other rural MA towns with slightly higher density are charging less. Otis is charging $70 for uncapped Gbit service. Each muni has to charge what is necessary to cover its costs.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Well, only one thing to do...

‘Donate’ to a few politicians to pass a law handing control of the networks over to a company like Comcast, so they can put their extensive experience providing the best-in-existence customer service and network maintenance, and save the poor naive public from their misguided attempt to avoid the awesome that is Comcast/Verizon/AT&T.

Anonymous Coward says:

Generally, I would be against a government creating some kind of service like this. Government screws things up and costs normally skyrocket.

On the other hand, Government created these Public Monopolies. There is no reason TWC, Comcast and others aren’t fighting for business from every town, and city it wants to be in. Setup shop and do your thing.

Then if they want my business, No dumb CAPS. Great customer service, and reasonable prices.

freedomfan (profile) says:

Re: Not really "natural" monopolies

You make a point that I wish Mr. Bode would emphasize when he writes these articles: Comcast, AT&T, et alii are not really natural monopolies. They have a long history of government subsidization and sweetheart deals, both in terms of exclusivity provisions when extending service to various communities and in actual "We will upgrade the lines in exchange for direct payments and tax breaks" deals. For a long time, it was basically illegal to hook up non-AT&T hardware to your phone line. And, how many cities ended up with one cable provider, in exchange for a couple of community access channels or some other BS?

So, these regional monopolies are, to a significant extent, government-created. Bode makes a strong case that some government action will be needed to get things to a point where actual competition works in this market. I tend to favor minimal government intervention in the marketplace. However, I also understand that when government created the knot, sometimes government is needed to untangle it. We could get more people on board with that idea if it were made clear that this is not some "government control versus the free market" scenario. This is a situation where, for most of the country, nothing like a free market exists and never really has.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Wrong definition

‘Natural monopoly’ has nothing to do with government involvement or lack thereof, it’s all about fields where the barrier to entry like cost and space make it such that the first on the scene(whether purely government, government supported, or purely private) has a significant advantage such that it’s difficult if not effectively impossible for competition to enter.

Whether the government gets involved or not the sheer cost for building out something like a broadband network(or water or electricity) and the fact that there’s only so much space available to put the needed infrastructure means that whoever gets there first will have a significant advantage, one caused simply by being first, which is what ‘natural monopoly’ means in cases like this.

freedomfan (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Wrong definition

You’re right of course. I let myself get distracted and focused on the wrong point.

That point is that Comcast, AT&T, etc. are not just natural monopolies – they are government-supported monopolies. They got the way they are with government subsidies and regulations that favored them. If we want to convince people of the value of things like community broadband efforts and some regulatory oversight of these monopolies, we would do well to emphasize that they came to their dominant positions with government help, and not simply by straightforward free market competition.

By making that point up-front in these articles, we might avoid some of the knee-jerk tribal opposition that tries to paint every issue as a simple red-blue conflict. (Just look at posts further up in these comments for examples.)

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Why fleece the sheep when you can get the farmer to do it?

Nah, why go after individual towns when they can go after the state politicians? A few ‘donations’ and hints about how ‘concerned’ they are that towns might be making ‘financially unwise decisions’ building their own networks rather than letting the much more experienced companies handle it and voila, yet another state where towns and cities are prohibited from engaging in any such activity that might present some competition.

Anonymous Coward says:

For the people by the people

G*d bless Elizabeth Warren and all the other like minded individuals who who fought to bring progressive change to the state of Massachusetts.

That being said, It’s ultimately up to the constituents (the people) to ensure they’re repsenitives (congressperson) are acting on their behalf and not of those who would lobby against the public interest.

jacob says:


Where I live, Local internet service cost averages about $400 a month, after overage fees when you go over their 10GB cap.

Cost more to download a game than to buy it in the first place.

And the cable internet averages speeds of 300kbs and tells you to go to the other service if you complain. And offten tells customers “we don’t service your area”

Me, “I know you don’t, but I’m paying you your lack of service”

Thank god for viasat internet, most decent internet I’ve paid for.

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