Benton Study Again Shows How 'Open Access' Broadband Networks Can Drive Competition, Improve Service

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

In 2009, the FCC funded a Harvard study that concluded (pdf) that open access broadband networks (letting multiple ISPs come in and compete over a central, core network) resulted in lower broadband prices and better service in numerous locations worldwide. Of course when the FCC released its “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. Both parties ignored the data and instead doubled down on our existing national telecom policy plan: letting AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast do pretty much whatever they’d like.

Since then, “open access” has become somewhat of a dirty word in 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. Why? Because having ISPs compete in layers over a centralized network may improve service, boost speeds, and reduce prices, but it would eat into monopoly revenues and you simply can’t have that.

Of course that doesn’t mean the model doesn’t work. The original 2009 Harvard study looked at numerous global instances where it worked really well to disrupt the status quo. This week, the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society released a new report (pdf) finding that, once again, open access networks could be a productive path out of the current monopolistic logjam that is the broken U.S. broadband market. Specifically when they’re used for so-called “middle mile” broadband networks, with the support of local communities:

“Experience has shown that state and local governments can experiment with and facilitate pragmatic solutions, such as the implementation of open-access, middle-mile networks that help ensure that everyone can use High-Performance Broadband?from building networks that offer affordable broadband service to ensuring that people, such as the newly unemployed, have the resources and skills to use broadband. Perhaps most importantly, state and local governments are nearby, not thousands of miles away, and they hear the voices of local communities.”

Open access also works well in last-mile (closer to your home) solutions. The town of Ammon, Idaho showcases precisely why telecom giants despise this model: it brings additional competition to bear on captive markets. The town built a locally owned 30 mile fiber network, then invited ISPs to come in and compete under an open access model. Locals currently have four ISPs to chose from (with more presumably coming), and users can switch ISPs in a matter of seconds.

Open access broadband works. Data continually shows it, and such a model would come in handy during a, say, national health crisis that’s busy showcasing how broadband is an essential lifeline to work, education, and survival. Starting small and building outward, government could work with localities and smaller, hungrier telecoms to expand this idea. But federal policymakers don’t embrace such a model because, again, monopolies don’t like competition. And when you’re so politically powerful that you literally write federal and state telecom law with a relentless eye on hamstringing competition, you tend to get what you want.

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Comments on “Benton Study Again Shows How 'Open Access' Broadband Networks Can Drive Competition, Improve Service”

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Anonymous Coward says:

As long as there are studies like this, openly stating the truth, the more the corrupt polticians and ISPs will do whatever it takes to dispel them. Anything that can be done to stop the public having what they should, what they are entitled to, what they are paying for, will be done! Look at the assaults made on the Constitution and how many things have been changed now, just to penalize the ordinary people

ECA (profile) says:

Lets see how to say this.

HOW about you tell All the corps that its Open hunting season, that Nothing Built before 2010, Belongs to 1 corp. that all those lines on the poles can be used by ANY SERVICE.
The only Protected sections are those BUILT UP After 2010.

To add to this is the idea that Even CABLE internet access can supply, TV/Phone/Internet all on 1 line. And we COULD include with all that connections with/to the cell towers. Which would REALLY upset the Old services.

A study long ago, showed that after you count and count again and again, the corruption of passing money around and back and forth, ends up costing MORE then just doing something without the corruption. As the money goes around and around, ITS still coming out of the same pockets, Ours. And you can only get so much back.

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

Vaccination Papers, Please says:

Ah, but WHO pays for the "central core network?" -- TAXPAYERS.

This is another version of your "public-private partnership" ploy: you omit calling it so this time, and it’s more correctly termed fascism, in which the public fronts money to build / install / maintain, then "private" businesses are given access to rake in money — IF they pay off politicians.

YES, putting off and hiding true costs can make politicians popular, but the cost of municipal bonds is HIGH, at least 3 times the face value — and likely is perpetual because will be "re-financed" repeatedly, the amount of taxes diverted solely to paying interest not principal steadily rising.

It’s a trick in which bankers and corporations are the actual beneficiaries.

Stephen T. Stone (profile) says:


Fascism is someone supporting the position that the government should be able to tell the owners of private property what they can and cannot, will and will not, must and must not do on that property even if what they do is within the boundaries of the law.

Since you’re the one always going on about how the government should take control of corporations and force Twitter to host speech and all that bullshit…well, maybe check on the color of your uniform before you go accusing other people of being brownshirts.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Ah, but WHO pays for the "central core network?" -- TAXPAYER

Frequently, it’s isn’t just "taxpayers pay for it", and even if they do, they are getting what they want, need, and asked for. A lot of these operate where the electorate votes for it, an office of a utility or a new entity is created which takes loans to build out and then pays the loan back with proceeds from the network. (This is suspiciously like the old type of capitalism! Quelle horreur!)

This also isn’t about giving anything to a corporation – hell, they don’t even want it.

You can calm down now and change your underwear, your paranoid fantasies aren’t happening.

P.S. Did you used to hang out at TechRepublic?

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Vaccination Papers, Please says:

Public money and public risk, but PRIVATE profits.

It does not guarantee low rates or good service.

There’s NO guarantee that the corporations won’t get in cahoots and all raise rates / reduce service, so what’s the utility of being able to switch?

Or they’ll pull out if the "economy" turns down and too few can afford.

All those reasons are why Techdirt loves the notion.

Now, I have a bit of welding to do, but you kids ad hom all you want and go on with your fascist fantasy.

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Hollow core or solid core?

Which kind of magic fiber wire shall the government install, old fashioned solid core or state of the art hollow core? As far as I can tell, all government owned fiber networks in the US are essentially obsolete.

And how responsive will the Government Fiber Lords be to requests for backhaul from cell sites? What about smart cities that want fiber to the traffic light? And what about security on shared access lambdas?

There are a lot of open issues with the speedy withdrawal of private capital from the broadband market. We may need to do a bit more planning before we withdraw lest the broadband market descends into chaos.

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