Only 14% Of Americans Think Communities Shouldn't Be Allowed To Build Their Own Broadband Networks

from the listen-to-the-people dept

A new poll from Morning Consult indicates that only around 14% of Americans think that communities should not be allowed to build and operate their own, local broadband networks:

That of course operates in pretty stark contrast to the 18 states that have passed obnoxious laws, usually written by incumbent broadband providers, that hamstring such efforts or ban them entirely. That total used to be 19 (Arkansas eliminated many of their restrictions earlier this year), and will soon be 17 (given Washington State just passed a law eliminating its restrictions as well).

The survey found that Democrats and urban residents are more likely that rural and Republican residents to support such options. But that too runs a bit in contrast with reality, given that the majority of community built broadband networks exist in more conservative leaning cities. Like a lot of tech subjects (net neutrality comes to mind), entrenched business interests have successfully framed community broadband as a “partisan issue,” which is a great way to stall consensus on a subject you oppose for purely selfish, successful reasons.

Industries, and the captured regulators and lawmakers who love them, adore demonizing such efforts as “socialism run amok” or automatic taxpayer boondoggles. But that’s again not based on reason. Such efforts are an organic, grass roots reaction to market failure and monopolization. The efforts aren’t pursued because their fun, they’re pursued because Americans have, over thirty years, grown increasingly frustrated at the high cost, slow speeds, and terrible customer service that’s the direct result of regional monopolization.

Christopher Mitchell, one of the country’s top experts on the subject, tells me that COVID has really highlighted how stupid and unnecessarily punitive such restrictions are. But overall, it has proven harder and harder for regional monopolies to buy laws restricting community broadband:

“No new state has added a barrier in 10 years,? said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. ?The more recent dynamic has been states removing them.”

Interestingly, the survey did show that many Americans trust the private sector more than they do their local government when it comes to actually running the networks. Roughly 54% of respondents said they had either “a lot” or “some” trust in local governments to provide the best at-home internet service, while 75% said the same about private internet providers. Cable lobbyists were quick to then claim this is because US telecom providers are akin to “LeBron James”:

“James Assey, executive vice president at cable lobby NCTA ? The Internet & Television Association, said adults are aware of the potential failures of public infrastructure, such as electric grids or bridges. “In the same way if I was playing basketball, I?d want LeBron James on my team ? I would want the people who do this day-in and day-out to help us bridge the divide that we know exists today,? Assey said.”

I imagine if you really sat Americans down and asked them if they view Comcast and AT&T as the tech equivalent of LeBron James you’d probably see some… pointed responses to that comparison. Again, community broadband is a direct, organic response to failures by the private sector, which routinely hoovers up millions in taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors in exchange for networks only half completed. Such networks aren’t a silver bullet, and of course depend on the competency of your local government and the quality of the business plan.

And while the Biden broadband plan leans heavily on community broadband, it’s not really an either or scenario. In the absence of functional regulatory oversight or competition, community broadband often acts as a way to pressure industry into trying harder, lowering prices, and upgrading their networks. If industry wants to avoid the “vile socialism” that is communities offering better, faster, cheaper fiber broadband, there’s an easy option that doesn’t involve buying shitty state laws that undermine the will of voters: do better.

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Comments on “Only 14% Of Americans Think Communities Shouldn't Be Allowed To Build Their Own Broadband Networks”

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16 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
imclean42day (profile) says:

community broadband

here in Longmont, CO, after jumping through the hoops to approve community broadband and the bonds necessary to build it, there was an 80% pick-up as the fiber came through the neighborhoods. Comcast dropped their prices, even after the ‘special’ pricing expired and raised their speeds.Century Link finally started to get rid of their ancient DSL and lay some fiber. I am quite content with my ‘taxpayer, socialist boondoggle’ as my up time is probably 5 nines, i have 1 Gbps symmetric speeds up and down, no deep packet inspection or data ‘caps’ and no user targeted advertising, all for 49.95 per month inclusive!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: community broadband

Century Link finally started to get rid of their ancient DSL and lay some fiber.

Seems kind of wasteful. I don’t know whether Longmont’s network is an open-access one, but I wonder whether the old guard would avoid providing service over such networks—running their own instead—just out of principle. Are they trying to improve on the municipal one in any way, e.g. by using a newer fiber technology?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

"help us bridge the divide that we know exists today"

He left off the part where they created & exploited that divide, then made damn sure no one else could come in and force them to upgrade their things.

If they want compare it to the failing roads & bridges… perhaps they should show us what they paid the states in taxes…

crinisen (profile) says:

Public-Private Partnerships

I love how the large Internet providers have shape the discussion. Given how much money has been tossed at them collectively by the public sector to build networks I have a hard time distinguishing between the huge multi-billion partnerships vs the smaller "community" ones. Except that I image that if someone compared how many "boondoggles" happened at a small scale vs say JUST the ones involving Frontier the community ones would come out on top.

Whoever says:

Amazing work by the Republicans

The Republicans have managed to convince millions of Americans to vote against their own viewpoints.

I suspect the only viewpoint most Republican voters agree with the party on is the unspoken one: white supremacy.

It’s just like this gif:
https://imgur.com/gallery/C78RK9P
except, of course, the man on the left is not white.

It’s just the same as Hitler and most (every) authoritarian leader: find a subset of the population and blame society’s ills on that subset.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Socialism: Only a bad thing for those that aren't rich

Industries, and the captured regulators and lawmakers who love them, adore demonizing such efforts as "socialism run amok" or automatic taxpayer boondoggles.

Socialism run amok, like, oh I dunno, massive tax breaks and/or taxpayer funded subsidies to private companies who then largely pocket the money and buy off a few politicians to ensure that they aren’t punished for refusing to hold up their end of the deal that got them that money?

Anonymous Coward says:

Community Broadband is a violation of American freedoms.

Yes this is about freedom! Rich Amercians should retain their traditional freedom to bilk their poorer neighbours! And poorer Americans should not have their right to be bilked infringed! And above all else, Republican politicians should be free to profit from the bribes (I mean, political contributions) that maintain all this freedom.

Welcome to the Republican party, where Humpty-Dumpty party where words mean precisely what they want them to mean, no more, no less.

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Bruce C. says:

Comparing ISPs to sports figures...

Rather than Lebron James, the athlete that comes to mind when I think about Comcast is probably a steroid-user like Jose Canseco — a great player, but their performance is artificially enhanced by regulatory capture. AT&T? Lenny Dykstra – moderately talented with significant issues.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: They only asked?

demonizing such efforts as "socialism run amok" or automatic taxpayer boondoggles.

I would really like to know how. As most of this goes to the Town/city getting the money rather then the corps. They can add it to Property taxes or add another billing.

Really sounds like Gov. control is considered communist, when it better known under other names. esp. if you dont get charged IF you dont want it.(ESPN anyone?)

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