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.