This Idaho Town Lets You Switch Between Cheap Fiber ISPs In A Matter Of Seconds

from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept

In 2009, the FCC funded a Harvard study that concluded (pdf) that open access policies (letting multiple ISPs come in and compete over a central, core network) resulted in lower broadband prices and better service. Of course when the Obama FCC released its flimsy, politically timid “National Broadband Plan” back in 2010, this realization (not to mention an honest accounting of the sector’s limited competition) was nowhere to be found.

Since then, “open access” has become somewhat of a dirty word in US telecom, and even companies like Google Fiber — which originally promised to adhere to the concept on its own network before quietly backpedaling — are eager to pretend the idea doesn’t exist. But building core infrastructure (sometimes with government’s help, sometimes not), then forcing ISPs to come in and compete in layers remains a compelling idea America wants nothing to do with.

Well, most of America. Back in 2016, the city of Ammon, Idaho (population 16,500) decided to build an open access broadband network that let multiple private ISPs offer service to customers over city-owned fiber. The resulting competition has, several years later, resulted in (surprise), better, faster, and cheaper access to broadband. As a result, this city in Idaho now boasts better broadband infrastructure than most US “tech hubs” like San Francisco and Seattle, both of which have flirted with the idea but never followed through:

?If you were to ask me what the key component of Ammon is, I would say it?s a broadband infrastructure as a utility,? says Bruce Patterson, Ammon?s technology director and one of the key drivers behind the network. ?We?ve just found a way to make it a true public infrastructure, like a road.”

The city of Ammon manages the network the same way it handles water services or road maintenance. ?If we could simply come to a point as a nation where we would say internet infrastructure is essential and we?re going to make sure that everybody has access to it,? Patterson says, ?that would be a huge step forward.?

Through software virtualization, users on the network are allowed to switch ISPs with just a few clicks. Don’t like prices or an ISP’s privacy or net neutrality practices? You just switch. You can start to see why giants like AT&T and Comcast aren’t particularly keen on this idea:

“By offering residents and businesses the option to own their own fiber, either paying up front (about $3,200) or $20 per month for 20 years, Ammon forces providers to compete for customers. There are eight local ISPs, and users can switch among them instantly without requiring a ?truck roll? (a visit from the ISP to adapt hardware at the customer?s location), because Ammon uses software to ?virtualize? the network.

To be clear community broadband isn’t some mystical panacea where this will inevitably happen every time a community gets involved. These efforts are like any other business model, and require a solid plan and good people involved if they’re going to succeed. The thing is, this is a decision that should be left up to towns and cities and their voters. Instead, we’ve let giants like AT&T and Comcast literally write the law in roughly 20 states banning your town or city from making up their own minds, preventing any exploration of creative alternatives to the status quo.

Huge swaths of the US government not only refuse to address the country’s broadband competition issues; many insist there is no problem. Instead, they embrace mindlessly eliminating oversight of giants like Comcast under the false premise this somehow results in better service. When communities frustrated by terrible service then try to do something about it, they run face first into protectionist laws literally written by telecom giants. People then stand around with a dumb look on their face, wondering why US broadband is aggressively mediocre and expensive. The answer? Corruption and regulatory capture.

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Comments on “This Idaho Town Lets You Switch Between Cheap Fiber ISPs In A Matter Of Seconds”

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36 Comments
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

We have something like that in NYC

In NYC, we have LinkNYC kiosks where payphones used to be where you could just log on and use the internet. It’s very handy if you have a smartphone or Nintendo Switch and for some reason the internet in the local café isn’t working.

It’s stuff like this (and this Idaho story) why infrastructure is key.

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: We have something like that in NYC

In NYC, we have LinkNYC kiosks where payphones used to be where you could just log on and use the internet. It’s very handy if you have a smartphone or Nintendo Switch and for some reason the internet in the local café isn’t working.

That’s very different than what’s described in the article above, no? A separate service for logging in is not the same as having open access competition on the network.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: We have something like that in NYC

That’s very different than what’s described in the article above, no? A separate service for logging in is not the same as having open access competition on the network.

I realized that as soon as I read the article. I wish there were a way to edit or delete my ignorant post, but trolls and ACs like out_of_the_blue is why we can’t have nice things.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: true competition

"true open competition" has always been blocked by heavy government inteventions into cable/broadband.

Nothing has changed on the government side to improve things.
CommunityBroadband still has government in charge of the "competition", with concealed taxpayer subsidies to the heralded cheaper consumer rates.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rocky says:

Re: Re: true competition

CommunityBroadband still has government in charge of the "competition", with concealed taxpayer subsidies to the heralded cheaper consumer rates.

Uhm, community broadband services are usually open to any operator. Any taxes invested into building these networks are actually a net positive for the whole community since a large part of the money stays in the community.

If you sign up with <random big ISP> a major part of the money residents pay for their service disappear out of the community (and most likely the state).

The whole thing is somewhat related to the Walmart-effect where a big player depresses the local economy.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

The name is Bonds. City Bonds. says:

What you LEAVE OUT is the not-very-hidden SUBSIDIES!

First, there’s NO mystery that Public Subsidy is great for corporations: small up-front costs, also little ongoing maintenance and risk (most of the network belongs to and therefore costs the city), just rake in profits.

Second, evidently you fanboys are generations who don’t understand compounding of interest. The city went into debt to build "infrastructure" for "private" corporations. Whatever amount will actually cost at least triple over 20 years, paid by general taxes.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

The name is Bonds. City Bonds. says:

Re: What you LEAVE OUT is the not-very-hidden SUBSIDIES!

Next, anyone would be CRAZY to "own" at $3200 vs 20 a month! Over twenty years, that’s also "opportunity cost" (of NOT investing) of at least three times — WAY more if "stock market" / Bitcoin / next big thing goes up — or bad news if your income goes down when the market crashes.

This is also a crony system, or will be, inevitably; they’ll be bought off to decide who’s subsidized and gets profits. Simply expands the range of corruption.

Last but not least: where’s any guarantee that prices will be kept low? As you’ve noted for elsewhere, they’ll tack on extras. — ALL OF THEM, because (being "persons" with "rights") corporations can effectively collude and conspire and will, just like gasoline stations, same price all over town.

Public Investment, Private Profits is a system known as fascism. It’s the only system proposed at Techdirt, whether this or "platforms" controlling all speech outlets.


Length limit again makes for two comments. — Or, apparently length: when I cut this out, the first went right in.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Gary (profile) says:

Re: Re: What you troll

Length limit again makes for two comments

Please don’t tell us any more about your short length. Yeesh.

But seriously – if you feel that TD isn’t providing You the right forum for your rants, please show us to your much better website with no filters and no censorship!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rocky says:

Re: Re: Internet-slug smashes fist into his own face to spite opponent

Can you explain why you are ranting about corporations when the whole thing is about a community broadband?

Actually, don’t bother.. I doubt you can produce anything that would make sense to anyone except yourself..

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Rocky says:

Re: Internet-slug leaves slimy trail of uninformed lies...

City of Ammon’s Return on Broadband Investment
Network Investment: $1 million
Total Municipal Cost Reduction: $1,821,000 over 25 years
Net Municipal Cost Reduction: $821,000 over 25 years
Subscriber Savings: 56%
GDP Increase: $4.7 million annually

Over 25 years, the projected cost reductions will be at $44 million compared to $9 million in investments. The direct benefits over the period are projected to be about $78 million.

You where saying?

Should I perhaps include a link for you to read about basic economics or are you going be the utter coward as usual and slink off when someone presents some facts that proves you’re wrong again?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Internet-slug leaves slimy trail of uninformed lies...

"Whether right or wrong, according to out_of_the_blue, Techdirt is always wrong, no matter the issue."

You forgot "because pirates" at the end of that sentence. Blue/Bobmail only even goes after techdirt because ANY impartial fact-based tech forum is, by definition, the enemy of all that he stands for.

Similarly to how he vents his spleen whenever Goliath…oops, Google…is mentioned.

Fine Day for Zombie Hunting says:

Re: Re: Re:2 "Scary Devil Monastery" made one comment, waited over 5 years...

The Zombie resurrections almost never last long — except for "Scary Devil Monastery" which made one comment, waited over 5 years to make a second, then took off at over 1000 a year! Anyone new, just go look at the 5 year gap after first of "Scary Devil Monastery" (easy way is on 2nd page, adjust the number up to total – 20):

https://www.techdirt.com/user/perge74

The "SDM" account is one of my best proofs. After total absence for FIVE YEARS, it turns out ardent Techdirt fanboy, vicious anti-dissent! You cannot explain those FACTS as other than astro-turfing.

And of course, actually "SCM" is Timothy Geigner, who also does the ultra-fanboy "Gary" account, apparently with Masnick’s permission. Way back, Masnick called Geigner Techdirt’s "comment enforcer", and clearly still is.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I don’t care if it’s local city lines or their own lines. There should be 8 choices in every town and city. If Comcast and TWC and others each want to put up their own lines in a city, fine by me. If they want to all get in and combine the cost, great. But this forced Monopoly most everyone has is why we have high prices, poor service, and a dumb CAP!!!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Ammon’s larger neighbor, Idaho Falls, is also going down this path. At a recent city council meeting, the council voted to approve rolling out a very similar model citywide after conducting a trial within a smaller portion of the city.

https://www.eastidahonews.com/2019/10/idaho-falls-city-council-votes-to-extend-high-speed-fiber-network-to-entire-city/

As someone who lives in this community, I’m very glad to see this happening. Idaho Falls has provided business access to a city-owned fiber network for quite some time and having had the opportunity to personally use this system, the offerings blow the traditional (cable and phone company) offerings out of the water both in price and quality of service.

Competition works wonders when you actually allow (and even facilitate!) competition.

That One Guy (profile) says:

... and like that, they were gone.

There are eight local ISPs, and users can switch among them instantly without requiring a “truck roll” (a visit from the ISP to adapt hardware at the customer’s location), because Ammon uses software to “virtualize” the network.

Of course the likes of Comcast would hate such a system, they know full well that if there was actual competition available and swapping required a few seconds’ worth of work that’s how long it would take for a large chunk of their ‘customers’ to bail for another ISP.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: oligopoly is the best we can hope for,

Yes, I don’t care if it’s the city that pays for the Network. It’s paid for by the people who are using the service. So I don’t consider it Socialism. If you’re not using it, you’re not paying for it.

Or the other way is these company’s come in and build their own network, or join up to build the Network. In either case, have 8 company’s fighting for each and every user. That means lower prices, better service, and this whole CAP thing would also end. These government-created Monopolies need to go. That is the biggest problem.

Bliederkrantz (profile) says:

"If you're not using it, you're not paying for it"

Really? You think if you don’t pay the subsidy or the money up front you won’t, as a member of the community, be paying for it? Just because you use less electricity than your neighbor do you think you’re not paying for citywide upgrades? Seems naive.

Will the network maintenance costs be be absorbed by the monthly fees each customer pays? What about upgrades to the CPE, network hardware and physical network? What about the technicians and call center to handle troubles? Can a city like this realize the economies of scale in operational costs like a regional or national provider who’s been operating for years? Seriously.

BTW. The consultant who suggested this approach (Entry Point) is the selling the city the billing/management software to allow businesses to "use the network". So, yes, you can switch anytime….but what will the difference in service be? Same network, same billing software, possibly different pricing but in the long run it will be the same since more can’t run a business at a loss. Doesn’t Entry Point then become a monopoly with their proprietary software that requires maintenance and updates going forward? This is a total boondoggle and will fail like 98% of them have across the country. Good luck. https://munibroadbandfailures.com/

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