Ohio Republicans Forced To Back Off Unpopular Ban On Community Broadband

from the good-luck-with-that dept

Ohio Republicans have been forced to back off an attempt to ban community broadband networks in the state after massive public opposition. As we recently noted, state Republicans included a last-hour amendment to a state budget bill (at AT&T and Charter’s behest) that would have effectively outlawed community and municipal broadband. Such networks are an organic, grass roots response to market failure at the hands of regional telecom monopolies. And instead of addressing them by offering better, cheaper service, giant ISPs often find it’s cheaper to just lobby state and federal lawmakers.

The Ohio proposal was so unpopular, none of the Republican backers were willing to even publicly acknowledge their support. After several weeks of significant backlash, the Ohio Senate conference committee was forced to scrap the proposal. That’s good news to FairlawnGig, a locally-owned ISP built on the back of a local power utility, which offers significantly faster fiber broadband at lower rates than most national providers. From an email the ISP sent out Monday morning:

“We?d like to thank everyone in Fairlawn and Summit County for their support in rallying together to tell elected officials in Columbus how important municipal broadband is to them,? says Ernie Staten, Director of Public Service for Fairlawn. “Municipalities only enter the broadband space when forced to by the inaction of the private sector. The competition and service we bring is the key difference for many communities to compete and thrive in the 21st century economy.”

Again, most of the major ISPs lobbying for these kinds of restrictions want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to operate as apathetic regional monopolies providing expensive, spotty, and slow service, but they don’t want anybody, at any real level, to do anything about it. Their own inaction created the trend of locally-built broadband networks, but instead of getting out ahead of the issue by doing better, they’ve repeatedly attempted to tilt the playing field in their favor. So instead of finishing the fiber networks taxpayers have paid billions for, they’ve passed 17 state laws prohibiting community broadband.

Because community broadband sees such bipartisan popularity, dominant ISPs also fund an entire cottage industry of pundits, academics, and regulators who like to insist that desperate cities trying to build better telecom infrastructure is “socialism” or “government run amok.” While community broadband isn’t some mystical panacea, the data is pretty clear that such options usually provide faster, cheaper service. They also pour local money back into the local economy, instead of funneling it to Comcast or AT&T executive compensation half a world away.

Of course it doesn’t have to be an either/or scenario. There are plenty of opportunities for collaboration and public/private partnership. But giants like AT&T, Comcast, Charter, and others really like the existing US approach to broadband policy, which for thirty-five years now has basically involved throwing billions in subsidies at industry giants for half-completed networks, paying some empty lip service to the “digital divide,” ignoring the perils of regional monopolization (and the corruption that protects it), while pretending the US broadband market is the pinnacle of free market innovation.

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Comments on “Ohio Republicans Forced To Back Off Unpopular Ban On Community Broadband”

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daveseth9682 says:

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DannyB (profile) says:

Waaaaaaaaaah! (sniff)

Bu, bu, but . . . community broadband would be a government handout!

No. People would have to pay for it. Even if it were free, it is being paid for by taxpayers who are local to the area where it is offered. And their representatives must vote for it.

But . . . the government shouldn’t be getting in to the broadband business! Competing with local providers.

This is only happening because of the local providers’ total inability or unwillingness to build something even minimally usable and/or affordable in this community.

But . . . the local government would have to manage this going forward.

Yes, just as they manage other infrastructure. Roads. Bridges. Parks. Traffic signals. Street lights. Sometimes: trash collection, recycling, municipal water, etc.

But . . . the government would be competing with ISPs!

Yes, again due to the ISPs inability or unwillingness to provide any reasonable alternative.

BUT . . . Waaaaaaaah! Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

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DannyB (profile) says:

Re: Waaaaaaaaaah! (sniff)

But . . . some local taxpayers would be funding this but might not use it.

Yes, but (1) most people need working internet in the 21st century, and (2) childless people pay for public education because having it is important to the community and society at large. Consider what happens to a community without usable or affordable internet access. Or electricity, or indoor plumbing, etc.

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Anonymous Coward says:

thank fuck this awful proposal was so strongly and verbally blocked! apart from showing the lengths cities and communities have to go to get sensible priced, sensible speed and far better customer service than what the private companies like Comcast etc give, it shows how important good quality broadband is. it also shows that it is much more important than any government that just keeps throwing money at the private companies, getting absolutely nothing in return for all the money and the corruption in politics that not only allows this to happen but keeps it going year after year after year!
as for Biden and his big plan, that’s gone out the window already, defeated by the Republicans. this shows exactly what will happen if a Republican President comes back into power, particularly in the shape of Trump! everything that happened during his office was for the benefit of companies, the benefit of industries and in particular his ‘friends’ in high positions. the same thing will happen again and the only losers, as usual, will be the public, the customers, those paying the bills!

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Rocky says:

Re: Re:

Government has no business funding roads. This is simply not the function of government. Stealing my money so you can drive to work is beyond a bad idea.

Government has no business funding waterworks. This is simply not the function of government. Stealing my money so you can have clean water is beyond a bad idea.

Government has no business funding schools. This is simply not the function of government. Stealing my money so you can have free education is beyond a bad idea.

I can go on some more if you like, but the reason the government usually funds public infrastructure is because it benefits the public. Would you move to a place that’s underserved by the incumbent ISP’s? Would you move to a place that with no running water? Would you move to a place that has no roads? Would you move to a place where you have to deal with your no 2 yourself?

Your argument shows a severe lack of understanding how things actually work.

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justme says:

no, you’re the one without understanding. as a good leftist you assume that only government can accomplish anything good. you need your mommy government to do everything for you. actually the free market will accomplish what the public wants & needs at the fair market price. you don’t understand that more and bigger government always means less freedom and liberty. like all leftists you think the ends justify the means, but they never do.

Rocky says:

Re: Re:

I see you are totally divorced from reality. When someone pokes holes in your argument you call them leftist, which only tells me you have no real arguments to speak of.

The free market will not accomplish what the public wants, they only do things if there is a profit in it. It’s almost like you didn’t read the article, because these community broadband initiatives came about because the "free market" failed them repeatedly in various ways. There’s 41 million in the US that doesn’t have access to broadband at all or have access to something that even don’t qualify as broadband even with the low standards the FCC had set.

Perhaps with you vast knowledge of how the "free market" works, you forgot to read the chapter on "market failures", here’s a short description:

Market failure is the economic situation defined by an inefficient distribution of goods and services in the free market. Furthermore, the individual incentives for rational behavior do not lead to rational outcomes for the group. Put another way, each individual makes the correct decision for him/herself, but those prove to be the wrong decisions for the group.

Let me put this in simple language for you: A company is usually not interested in doing business in an area which needs a high upfront capital investment and a low to zero ROI years in the future. This is why the government sometimes steps in and offers financial incentives to companies for the public good or they actually invest and build the infrastructure themselves – and the reason for this is that the free market is bad at public goods and externalities.

If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, it only means you don’t understand the free market either – as evidenced by your simplistic arguments.

Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: justmoron

no, you’re the one without understanding

[Projects facts not in evidence]

In the real world:
Municipal broadband is baid for by bonds, not taxes (and pay them off plus extra quite well)
And municipal broadband on the whole provides faster, more reliable service, lower more transparent prices, and more fairness and speech protection than private internet.

There’s no rational, reality-based reason to oppose municipal broadband.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"…as a good leftist you assume that only government can accomplish anything good."

Being knowledgeable of recent history is now "being a good leftist"? Amazing. In "socialist" europe we never have this sort of debate because, frankly, our regulated markets and net neutrality restrictions mean the private market actually works.

The US, meanwhile, stands out as a failed experiment as far as the free market goes.

"you don’t understand that more and bigger government always means less freedom and liberty."

It’s somehow always amusing when the zealous libertarian expounds on the religious argument which was debunked a hundred times since the 80’s. You’d do well as a soviet commissar, I think. A shame the USSR collapsed while your spiritual brethren were still expounding on the virtues of a disproven ideology.

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justme says:

and that is no justification for big government. hear me: i don’t want to pay for this shit and i should not be forced to do so. the free market may not have provided internet for those people but tough shit. if you don’t like it then move. those people chose to live in those locations and your actions have consequences. others poor choices should not force me to pay higher taxes and endure a bigger government. if you want to pay for it then send the gov extra money. don’t steal my money to pay for your bad choices.

Rocky says:

Re: Re:

Well, I see you don’t understand economy one bit and how things tend to depend on each other. By your reasoning, we should all live in cities. Of course, that would mean that no one lives in the rural areas – like farmers and ranchers, or any other people who actually produce things needed in the cities. Perhaps you think of these people as 2nd rate citizens that have no need of internet or any other type of service even though they pay the same taxes you do.

You have only cemented my belief that you don’t know shit about economics and how society works, because your experience of it seem to be walking to the nearest Starbuck’s to get a soy latté while using their free wifi to write inane posts on the internet about how "big government" is taxing you to death while being totally oblivious to the fact that your lifestyle is entirely depended on people doing real work in rural areas.

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justme says:

apparently you’re unaware of skylink. there is a free market solution that will provide fast broadband to rural areas. your problem is that you think government is always the solution to every problem. you ignore history. government does nothing well and the less government we have the better off we all are. and no i don’t believe everyone should live in cities. on the contrary i think cities are horrible, festering shit holes run by leftists. and btw i live in a rural area so your asinine assumptions are of course all wrong. my point about personal responsibility was lost on you. the point was that your decisions have consequences and when you don’t get the desired result (no internet) it does not mean that you have the right to steal my money to fix it.

Rocky says:

Re: Re:

It’s called Starlink, and it’s expected to support 500,000 – 600,000 users. There are 41 million people without broadband or internet in the US, ie it’ll cover about 1.2-1.3% of those 41 million.

And I don’t think the government is the solution for everything, just as I don’t think the free market is the solution for everything. When the free market fails, the government can step in and remedy the situation. And if you actually knew history you wouldn’t say that the government does nothing well, because that’s not true. They do some things badly and some things well, it’s not an all or nothing proposition, just like how the free market works.

And if you live in a rural area, why aren’t you complaining about your state taking taxes to use on public infrastructure like roads, water, sewer and postal services? That must surely count as "stealing your money" in your book. Or is that different somehow from community broadband? A service which is soon a must for any citizen in a modern society?

And since we are talking about the free market and community broadband, how come most of these community broadband projects have a better service at lower prices while at the same time earning enough money to pay back the investment and increasing tax-revenue than almost all of the "free market" alternatives? As I said, you don’t know shit about economics.

You don’t get to talk about personal responsibility and saying that the government is "stealing" your money, while at the same time availing yourself to public infrastructure funded by tax-money from other people too. It’s called being a hypocrite. You don’t really have an inkling of how much of your taxes goes into public infrastructure you use every day it seems.

If everyone where like you, you would live in a cesspool paying through your nose for anything and everything, and you would certainly not be able to live in a rural area for the simple reason that rural areas are only economically feasible because the government has invested in public infrastructure. And here’s another thing you don’t understand, public infrastructure is a long term investment that actually pays itself back through increased tax-revenue because people get more opportunities.

You believe you are some rugged individualist, but the truth is, your whole life is dependent on that the government invest and maintain public infrastructure and services which you use daily.

Finally, let me paraphrase you: If you don’t like the taxes, you are free to move. Does that sound like a good argument?

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"apparently you’re unaware of skylink."

At least get the name straight. Starlink is a solutions which does not scale and the latest from Capitol Hill is that Musk has applied for massive grants in subsidies to make his idea work.

"your problem is that you think government is always the solution to every problem."

Ironic, given that your "private actors" – from Musk to AT&T – are sucking up government subsidies (i.e. your tax dollars) in amounts far higher than you usually see in "socialist" europe.

"…the point was that your decisions have consequences and when you don’t get the desired result (no internet) it does not mean that you have the right to steal my money to fix it."

And yet not a single one of your "market solutions" is currently operating without a massive amount of government subsidy. Apparently when you give private companies too free reign the result is state and federacy falling over itself to give your tax money away to a literal protection racket.

When you get your starlink box do remember how much of the public purse was invested in it.

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Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"and as good libturd that loves taxes you’re free to give extra taxes each year."

Ironically as a european living in a social democracy my taxes, once tallied, are over 10% lower than what the US middle class is paying. Turns out we get more, for less, when we stop caring that the benefits of what our taxes purchase extends beyond our immediate surroundings.

But hey, don’t let me stop you from dreaming about the merits of that sad system which has the US coming apart at the seams while you keep paying more for less every time your government kneels and kisses the ring of the private sector.

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