Why There's A Need For Municipal Broadband

from the muni-money-and-mayhem dept

Glenn Fleishman points to a Washington Monthly article that does an excellent job of highlighting why there's a need in the US for municipal broadband services -- because incumbent providers do an inadequate job of serving many communities, and regulators let them get away with it. Both the original article and Fleishman's post point out examples of incumbent providers refusing to invest in offering services wanted and needed in some place, and also the double-standard the companies have when they object to localities spending public money to compete with them, but gladly accept all kinds of tax breaks, subsidies and incentives from local governments to support their own businesses. The lack of real competition in the broadband market has allowed it to stagnate and lets providers get away with subpar offerings and high prices. Clearly the current regulatory situation isn't doing anything to spark competition -- far from it -- leaving underserved localities little option but to jump into things themselves. It's not a question of free markets or government interference; incumbent providers just don't want to have to compete, period, regardless of who is their rival.

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  1.  
    identicon
    Matt, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 5:20pm

    No Subject Given

    It is not the governments role, nor its place to be taking taxpayer dollars and spending them on frivilous things such as free internet for people. Tax money is collected from everybody, that does not mean that it ought to be used for services like this, if anything, return everything that doesn't NEED to be spent, rather than wasting it on things like municipal internet. The entire concept of "public money" is socialist by nature, anyway.

    Deregulation is more likely to foster growth and new options in this area. If more companies were free to lay lines and compete with the big providers, prices would go down (as always happens when there is adequeate competition), and people would be happier with the freedom to say to their provider "stop raising rates or I'll SWITCH."

    Full disclosure here: I am a very politically active libertarian, and pre-law.

     

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  2.  
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    Mike (profile), Jan 5th, 2006 @ 5:37pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Hmm. While we tend to be big free market supporters, I think you've over-simplified this issue in a dangerous way.

    First off, most of the new muni-broadband offerings don't use taxpayer money. Second, it can make sense for government to get involved in areas where there's a clear market failure -- which does appear to be what has happened in parts of the broadband market. Because of the nature of deploying a broadband network, having some element of public cooperation can be quite helpful -- whereas "deregulation" can cause problems. Since companies need rights to be able to either lay lines or place wireless transmitters you can make a reasonable argument that government should be at least helping to keep the market fair and competitive, rather than completely stepping back.

    I think part of the problem may be the name "muni-broadband." If you look at many of the new deployments (such as the one announced yesterday in Anaheim), it's really a private WiFi network set up by Earthlink. The only muni part is that Anaheim is granting the right of way for Earthlink to install its access points (for a fee).

    And, if you actually read the articles that Carlo is pointing to, they make a very convincing argument that the overall social and economic benefits of these muni-WiFi setups is quite clear -- mainly in generating lots of new business.

    The libertarian view is a good one to take, but you need to recognize things like natural monopolies and how certain markets impact others before completely condemning muni-broadband.

     

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  3.  
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    Fazookus, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 6:10pm

    Re: No Subject Given


    Full disclosure here: I am a very politically active libertarian, and pre-law.

    Keep in mind that, like most libertarians, he's from a time before there was a law, and things were different then.

     

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  4.  
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    Matt, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 6:37pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Mike - As a part of deregulation, Earthlink, and whoever else came along, would basically be free to setup their own wifi network for the city. As deregulating things like this is unlikely, I do think that it's a good idea for cities to clear the way for private wifi providers. I'm all for city-wide wifi (if only I were in a city), so long as I'm not the one paying for it - I already pay for my own line and my own wireless router, and, forgive me if I sound miserly here, I don't want to pay for everyone elses.

    And as for natural monopolies - I think the first step to curing this is eliminating the legal definition of a corporation, that "single entity" legal definition of a company. And again, in a truly free market, if you don't like the monopoly, you can always try starting up some competition yourself. When a company becomes so saturated into society that living becomes impossible outside of its realm, then there is a true societal problem, and societal problems are certainly within the government's role to take a hand in solving.

     

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  5.  
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    Scott, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 6:46pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    So - to extend your arguement, local governments should not provide library services, continuing education service, extracirricular school activities, high school marching bands, sports teams, or any service not considered esential? We have already moved past the days of only providing esential services -- local governments now try to improve the quality of life for their citizens. Not saying that I agree or disagree -- just pointing out reality.

    Localities are always striving to seperate themselves from others in order to entice business into the area - to increase the tax base in order to provide more services. Businesses create jobs (more tax payers) and pay taxes themselves.

     

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  6.  
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    Anonmyous Coward, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 6:51pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    In these parts, state owned entities provide public utilities including heat, light and water. I say we turn his off.

     

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  7.  
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    A Funny Guy, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 7:23pm

    Da Man - Shittin' on us again

    Local Governemts try and inprove the lives oftheir citizens...... What a joke. Dude wake up! This is the era of corruption. I live in a suburb area and all I see if my local government spending money for very special projects that benefit a privledged few.
    Internet is a public utility now. As is electricity, phone access, natural gas, gasoline, water, and food.
    Our local providers are avoinding certain areas like they have plague. Primarly these are areas where a high percentage of the population is afro-american and / or hispanic.
    Not to mention I have a friend who lives in the CITY LIMITS of CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA; the largest city in North Carolina: and he still cannot get dsl because the local phone company keeps dragging thier asses about upgrading the equipment in his area. The local cable company wants to charge him $2800 to run a line 600 feet for cable internet access, and their is no public wide access wi-fi network.
    You say the government needs to stay out of it, ordinarily I'd agree. However when companies refuse to offer fair access to all users, they invite the government to step in and regulate their business for them. And more power to the government if they have to!

     

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  8.  
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    Matt, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 7:32pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    Scott - I'm not going to make a judgement call or anything and I hope you'll afford me the same, but no, I don't believe that local governments should provide any services at all. I believe in total privitization, so that money is spent and taken in by consent, rather than gunpoint, and the way it is spent is dictated by consumers, not panels or boards or councils.

    The government needs to be more of a societal skeleton than the meat and organs of society, let the private sector handle that. The gov doesn't exist to serve every whim of the people. That'd be terribly dangerous, as 51% can sure ask for a lot, when it suits them. A 50+% tax to pay for all that doesn't sound appealing to me.

     

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  9.  
    identicon
    Stephen Pray, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 7:38pm

    Re: No Subject Given

    I didn't hear anyone mention FREE INTERNET. You sound a little more Republican than Libertarian to me. Oh yeah, leave big business alone...don't make them have to compete.
    Why not let the municipalities serve the people they exist to serve?
    We have electric co-ops in Texas. No one gets free electricity, but everyone who wants it has easy access.
    Good luck with your law career. Get you a dog. Name him Loophole...Sic him, Loophole.

     

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  10.  
    identicon
    scott, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 7:41pm

    Municipal broadband

    I agree. Cities need to take over providing broadband for everyone for free. Then all the pay services will go out of business. Then the government can watch everywhere you go, and read all of your email, and more closely monitor all of you, and take away your freedom. That will be great! The internet is the one thing that allows us power to speak freely, and once that is extinguished, it will be just like the awesome book, 1984!

     

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  11.  
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    Ken, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 7:48pm

    Theory

    So we are to just let private companies rip us off because in theory it sounds good to let them go.

    Blah, blah, blah.

    When I read the article and as everyone else knows, the companies that you covet are screwing the public.

    The problem is their is no competition and these companies have us backed into a corner. Do you want it or not. This is the premium you must pay.

    Robber Baron is the first thought.

    For modern times, monopoly.

    For Republicans and Libertarians, bend over.

     

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  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 7:52pm

    Re: Theory

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Ken, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 7:56pm

    Re: Municipal broadband

    Scott you are blind if you think that does not already happen.

    If you do not think that you can be monitored then I am so sorry that you are that nieve.

    Read about monitoring of the internet and government policy. Read a few laws that have been past and maybe the secret ones that have been exposed.

    Your world will begin to crumble. I am sorry that your ballon has lasted this long and that you thought you actually had freedom under Bush.

     

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  14.  
    identicon
    Walter Borden, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 8:56pm

    Go call Grover Norquist re:Abramoff

    Points as sophmoric as these already tell us all that you are "pre-law". Unregulated capitalism is called facism. The market is a force of nature, yes, I agree. And just like we dam rivers we regulate other forces of nature like the "invisibele hand" of markets. Free markets are efficient ways to sense the proper equilibrium for supply and demand for, say, semiconductors. But in cases of inelastic demand like health case provision, it will never work. Though I am sure you can't wait to be the one to greet people at the entrance to the hospital and tell their grnadmother that she can't recieve care because she's broke, and to do otherwise would be "socialist". Some, like myself, would call treating her with public tithe, Christian.

     

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  15.  
    identicon
    Ken, Jan 5th, 2006 @ 9:04pm

    Re: Go call Grover Norquist re:Abramoff

    Those that are Christian do not have to call themselves Christian. Unlike the Conistians.

    I am not knocking you Walter but the sad sack of people that believe placing a label on things makes them good people.

    The problem is they have no idea what the labels usually stand for other than a point to argue on.
    So much for blind faith. Well I guess most of them follow GW. That is pretty blind.

     

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  16.  
    identicon
    Ben, Jan 6th, 2006 @ 7:45am

    Re: Go call Grover Norquist re:Abramoff

    Yup, your right Ken, Bush is Satan and all the Republicans are scum. And anyone who claims to be Christian is just saying it for the attention? WOW your right on the ball! How about you get off of your pedistol and actual think for yourself instead of what NPR tells you to think.

    Walter said using a tithe to help a sickly old lady would be Christain and you cut that down. very compationate, jerk.

     

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  17.  
    identicon
    MIXLPLIX, Jan 6th, 2006 @ 8:48am

    the future

    To keep-up with the rest of the globe we need to have free (federaly funded) satellite high speed broadband so that everybody everywhere can have access.

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 6th, 2006 @ 8:52am

    Re: Go call Grover Norquist re:Abramoff

    You know, we should all listen to Ken, he's obviously very well educated and his opinions must matter. Let's see here...

    "Scott you are blind if you think that does not already happen.

    If you do not think that you can be monitored then I am so sorry that you are that nieve.

    Read about monitoring of the internet and government policy. Read a few laws that have been past and maybe the secret ones that have been exposed.

    Your world will begin to crumble. I am sorry that your ballon has lasted this long and that you thought you actually had freedom under Bush."


    4 lines of drivel - 3 hilarious errors

     

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  19.  
    identicon
    haggie, Jan 6th, 2006 @ 11:04am

    No Subject Given

    Muni WiFi would have been a non-issue if the telephone and cable monopolies had fulfilled their customer, contractual, and charter obligations.

    At the same time, I think it does represent a certain laziness of local politicians. They should have taken off the gloves and really negotiated this type of access into their future contracts with telcos and cable companies. They took the easy way out and negotiated new contracts with new service providers. And, I'm quite sure they took plenty of donations from everyone involved.

    I look forward to Muni WiFi, but I am not so naive that I think it was handled in the best possible way, it will work as seamlessly as promised, and that the municipalities won't bear any costs.

     

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