3 Out Of 4 Americans Support Community Broadband, Yet 19 States Still Ban Or Hinder Such Networks
from the getting-out-of-our-own-way dept
For years a growing number of US towns and cities have been forced into the broadband business thanks to US telecom market failure. Frustrated by high prices, lack of competition, spotty coverage, and terrible customer service, some 750 US towns and cities have explored some kind of community broadband option. And while the telecom industry routinely likes to insist these efforts always end in disaster, that’s never actually been true. While there certainly are bad business plans and bad leaders, studies routinely show that such services not only see far better customer satisfaction scores than large private ISPs, they frequently offer better service at lower, more transparent pricing than many private providers.
Undaunted, big ISPs like AT&T and Comcast have waged a multi-pronged, several decades attack on such efforts. One, by writing and buying protectionist laws in dozens of states either hamstringing or banning cities from building their own networks, often in cases where private ISPs refuse to expand service. Two, by funding economists, consultants, and think tankers (usually via proxy organizations) happy to try and claim that community broadband is always a taxpayer boondoggle — unnecessary because private sector US broadband just that wonderful.
Of course if you ask actual American consumers, they generally support towns and cities building better, faster broadband networks if they’ve been historically underserved. And they most certainly don’t approve of Comcast buying state laws that eliminate their voting right to make local infrastructure decisions for themselves. A recent Consumer Reports survey found that three out of four Americans support community broadband efforts:
“Three out of four Americans feel that municipal/community broadband should be allowed because it would ensure that broadband access is treated like other vital infrastructure such as highways, bridges, water systems, and electrical grids, allowing all Americans to have equal access to it.”
The survey also found that the subject somewhat splits along partisan lines, despite not technically being a partisan issue (more on that in a second):
“A larger percentage of Democrats (85%) than Independents (74%) and Republicans (63%) say municipal/community broadband should be allowed.”
Here’s where I’ll note that wanting to maintain your local voting rights to make infrastructure decisions for yourselves isn’t really a partisan issue. Wanting better broadband isn’t a partisan issue. A disdain for regional monopolies like Comcast isn’t partisan. Most community broadband networks have been built in conservative cities (the most popular being Chattanooga). The subject is often only partisan because regional monopoly lobbyists and policy folks like to frame it that way in policy conversations to sow dissent, stall consensus, and undermine anything that challenges their regional monopoly power.
ISPs could easily derail the movement by offering better, cheaper, faster broadband in more markets. But the reality is they’ve found it easier and cheaper to throw campaign contributions at state and federal lawmakers, letting them effectively buy laws banning meaningful challenges to their dominance. As a result, 83 million Americans currently live under a broadband monopoly, and in a long line of states, cities and towns have their hands tied when it comes to actually doing something about it.
Having tracked the US telecom sector for a while, most of the exciting progress in the space is happening on the local level. There’s a massive grass roots coalition of utilities, co-ops, governments, small ISPs, local businesses, and public/private partnerships doing most of the heavy lifting in this space. And it remains aggressively idiotic that state leaders continue to block such efforts, often under the misleading claim of “market freedom,” simply because AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast don’t like a challenge or competition.