Just A Click Away: How To Improve Broadband Competition

from the real-competition dept

Read our new report on broadband competition in America »

We’re excited today to release the Copia Institute’s latest report, written by Karl Bode, on the benefits of an open access fiber model to enable much more widespread competition in the broadband space. As I’m sure you know, for huge parts of the US, there is no real broadband competition. This lack of competition allows legacy players to get away with all sorts of questionable behavior — from artificially restricting your broadband to adding ever increasing hidden fees to your bill. If there were actual competition, including low switching costs, these companies wouldn’t be able to get away with this nonsense. Users would flee in droves.

The paper focuses on local communities that are taking the competition issue into their own hands, building out municipal networks to serve their own populations. While for many years, such municipal broadband models were denigrated as “government-run internet,” the reality is usually quite different. There are now so many examples of incredibly successful locally built broadband networks that it can no longer be dismissed as a government boondoggle. Many of these networks are actually run as public-private partnerships, and many are fully self-sufficient without any government funding or subsidies (and I’ll just note here that the largest “private” broadband providers are infamous for gobbling up billions in government subsidies while failing to deliver on the associated broadband rollout promises).

Unfortunately, especially in the US, almost no attention has been paid to looking at ways to actually increase real competition in the broadband space. This new paper, Just a Click Away: Broadband Competition in America, looks at the history of this issue, but also one possible solution. That solution, open access fiber, after years of being dismissed or ignored, is finally showing some real promise.

But, this paper goes even further. While many municipal or community broadband projects are run just as as competing broadband provider, the wholesale open access fiber model is an exciting one, because it separates the network layer from the service layer — allowing any service provider to come in and offer service on top of the available network. Those services can be differentiated in all sorts of ways, allowing for actual competition at the service layer — without needing multiple expensive network build outs.

The end result of such wholesale open access fiber systems is that broadband competition is literally “just a click away.” As explained in the paper, some regions now have a world where there are portals where you can see the various service options all together, and click to choose which one you want to go with. And, more importantly, if you’re unhappy with your provider, you can click to change it and move to a better provider without any hassle.

As the paper makes clear, wholesale open access fiber is not a panacea to all the many problems of broadband and broadband competition in the US, but it’s a model that has shown it can succeed, and that it can create real competition — and with it, innovation as service providers actually focus on offering better services for subscribers, rather than trying to innovate on better and better ways to screw over users.

Indeed, after decades of people telling us that community broadband was somehow against the free market, the biggest irony here is that these communities with open access systems show much better, how a free market with competition and low switching costs, creates much better options for the public.

We’d like to thank the Knight Foundation for its generous support enabling us to write this report.

Just A Click Away: Broadband Competition In America »

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Comments on “Just A Click Away: How To Improve Broadband Competition”

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ECA (profile) says:

Would love to see.

A Work program by the gov.
Buy back the Tier 1 section of the net, at COST. FORCE IT ON THE CORPS, or they loose access. AS this is the backbone and Does not Wholly belong to them anyway.

Check the WHOLE of the backbone, that its upto date. Then Jump into any area that has Limited access, and BUILD UP THE END SYSTEMS. Then either sell it to the City/state to control. OR SELL it back to the CORPS while under contract and restriction Limiting WHAT they can do with it.

I would take back the tier1 section and the backbone, Based on Monies already PAID, and as REPAYMENT for monies given.
WHICH should have been in the Original contracts for taking the money int he FIRST PLACE.

Anonymous Coward says:


What do you consider “tier1”? I guess not the backbone, since you call it out separately. If you mean the “last mile”, that tends to be somewhat-to-horribly outdated. Buying that would be kind-of-okay as a short-term fix, but would reward incumbents more than they deserve. How many more miracles can the DSL-standards people pull off with ancient copper? Co-ax is in a better state, but we should really just have some fucking ambition and bypass the incumbents to go straight to fiber. Like with rural electrification and utility hookups a hundred years ago. We didn’t just wait around to see what we’d get or what we could do with existing junk.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

This could be a great first step

An open-access network such as this would be far superior to the incumbent monopolies. I’m not convinced it should be the end goal. It’s pretty much the best case for ISPs that are just starting up—remember when people had like 10 or 20 local dialup choices, because any idiot could order a bunch of phone lines and start one? However, the wire-and-equipment monopoly would not be immune to the standard monopolistic tendencies; e.g., if it were a gigabit network to start with, it might still be gigabit for the same price in a decade, when a free market might have brought down the costs or increased the speed.

A parallel physical-access model could help with that concern, and I believe that’s been advocated—and to some degree used—by Sonic.net: when they get enough wholesale customers in an area, they set up their own equipment and transfer the customers over, thereby reducing the payments that need to be made to the incumbent. They’re also then in a position to upgrade that equipment on their own schedule, which may be faster.

Were I designing a public network like this, I’d be sure to require fiber (ideally, and for new construction, multiple fibers in a conduit) from each home to a common equipment room, initially connected to municipal routing equipment—with that nice “instant switching” capability. I’d also mandate co-location space be available for rental by competitors, so they could plug their customers’ fibers onto a 100 Gbit/s router, or something with a local TV cache or better uplink, or whatever is a bit too new or advanced for the boring city-run company to have experience with. Here’s a page, with pictures and links, showing how this can work (somebody ordered 25 Gbit/s service just for fun, and had to upgrade their home routing equipment because no commercial home-routers can deal with that).

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