After North Carolina Law Bans Municipal Broadband, One ISP Gives Gigabit Connections Away

from the shooting-yourself-in-the-foot dept

Back in August, we noted how the FCC lost an incredibly important case regarding municipal broadband. In short, the FCC tried to dismantle state-level protectionist laws, written by incumbent ISPs, that hamstring towns and cities from building their own broadband networks or striking public/private partnerships for broadband -- even in areas those same incumbent ISPs refused to upgrade. The FCC had tried to claim that its congressional mandate to ensure "even and timely" broadband deployment allowed it to strip away any part of these laws that hindered broadband expansion.

But the courts argued that the FCC lacks this authority, forcing the agency to acknowledge it was giving up on this fight. But there are still countless municipal broadband providers in the 19 states that have passed these laws that can't launch or expand existing service lest they run face-first into a law written by Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, or CenturyLink lawyers. And there are millions of customers that are incredibly frustrated by the lack of broadband market competition, resulting in the expensive, inconsistent broadband connections most of us "enjoy" today.

In North Carolina, it took Time Warner Cable four attempts to convince the state legislature to pass such a protectionist law. The FCC's failure to dismantle this law resulted in one municipal ISP, Greenlight, facing the specter of having to disconnect customers in a neighboring county given the ban on selling municipal broadband. In response, the ISP has decided not to sell broadband to these neighbors at all, instead announcing this week that it would be giving away gigabit service for free until it can figure out what to do next:
"Wilson officials voted Thursday to provide free Greenlight Community Broadband services to existing customers outside the county on a limited basis until efforts are successful in overturning the law that prohibits fee-based municipal broadband beyond the county line.

“While the short-term fix is not perfect, it was the only alternative we had to disconnecting our neighbors,” said Wilson Mayor Bruce Rose. “Taking broadband service from the people of Pinetops would have been a terrible blow, especially when they are still recovering from Hurricane Matthew."
And while that's quite a feel good story and a nice move by Greenlight, the reality is there's nobody coming to the rescue of these states any time soon in the wake of the FCC's loss. Incumbent telecom providers have such a stranglehold over state legislatures, they're being allowed to quite literally write the law. In most instances, the states that pass these laws wind up being among the least connected and competitive broadband states in the union. That leaves the only solution being to vote these beholden lawmakers out of office.

The problem is that ISPs have historically been successful in framing this as a partisan issue, one in which the mean ol' government is competing unfairly with the innocent daisies in private industry. This narrative usually involves framing all municipal broadband efforts as unmitigated financial disasters, while trying to claim these laws are necessary to protect poor, naive citizens from themselves. As such efforts in Congress to pass new laws banning state protectionist laws have consistently been scuttled, in part thanks to a public voter base that has been tricked into rooting against its own best self-interest.

The reality however is that this isn't a partisan issue at all. In fact, most municipal broadband networks are being built in Conservative areas with the support of Conservative voters. As these voters grow more and more disenfranchised by the existing duopoly status quo, it's getting harder and harder to convince them that letting AT&T, Verizon and Comcast buy protectionist, anti-competitive state law is perfectly fine, while building local, better broadband networks that dramatically improve local quality of life is the very worst sort of villainy.

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  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 10:01am

    I wonder if the FCC has the power to ask why with the billions looted from the Universal Service Fund, there are some people who can't even get dialup.

    One would think with billions that there would be a common tier of service available to everyone, rather than money being spent to make sure these beneficiary's of a system to promote connecting everyone aren't passing laws to lock people out of being connected.

    Perhaps if we demanded that Congress people are limited to the lowest available tier of service in their districts, they might take notice how those they allegedly serve aren't being served. Imagine what they might think if they had to live like us mere mortals who don't get the special Congresscritter rates & services.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2016 @ 10:19am

      Re:

      "Perhaps if we demanded that Congress"

      whoa whoa whoa... tap the damn brakes!

      When was the last time America did anything about congress? I don't think it has happened in my life time. The some old career politicians are continually voted into office.

      I tell you what, you keep your nose up the ass of YOUR local corrupt politician and I will keep my nose up the ass of MY own. As long as mine keeps giving me what I want, I don't care if you like them or not. I do not care if they are corrupt as fuck or not, I dot not care what they have to sell down the river to get me what I want. As long as they do, they get to keep their seat in my state or district.

      I want corruption in government because it serves me! I don't give a fuck what else happens!

      and if you think I am fucking jokes, shit no! This IS AMERICA!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      TheResidentSkeptic (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 10:32am

      Re:

      The luddites haven't come very far...

      https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20100919/02284211072/back-when-the-senate-tried-to-ban-dial- telephones.shtml

      .. so what makes you think they even "have" broadband? Or would even know if they had it?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oninoshiko (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 10:20am

    There's an easy solution, vote the bastards out of office. If the opposition doesn't do anything about it, swap again. Stop being beholden to some party affiliation, deity knows, they aren't beholden to you unless you MAKE them.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      art guerrilla (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 10:36am

      Re:

      you ain't from around these here parts, are ya pardner ? ? ?
      we got small-dee democracy in name only, the korporations call the tune, and we dance a jig for them...
      that is obviously the best possible world for all concerned....

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Wyrm (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 12:43pm

      Re:

      A French comedian made a joke about this a long time ago, and it's still valid to this day:
      If voting could change anything, it would have been prohibited a long time ago.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    wiserabbit, 1 Nov 2016 @ 10:29am

    both stories

    it would be nice if we could get some coverage on these stories in conjunction with coverage on the One Touch Make Ready (OTMR) stories so that consumers could see both sides of this game.

    the monolithic incumbents keeping the local towns and cities *and* any non-government entities out of their fiefdom much to all of our distress.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Oblate (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 10:35am

    This narrative usually involves framing all municipal broadband efforts as unmitigated financial disasters

    They will undoubtedly now advertise the municipal broadband as "so bad they can't even sell it outside of the county".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    ANON, 1 Nov 2016 @ 11:04am

    Cant Trust Government Service???

    Back around 1999, I used to read Jerry Pournelle's CHaos Manor and marvel at how complex DSL and such services seemed to be, even in the LA area. Then our Canadian provincial Telco decided to replace our dial-up with high speed DSL. How complicated would this be??? I went down to the local office, picked up my modem - and went home and plugged it in. It didn't work! A little while later, I figured out I could not run DSL on the "phone out" plug of my dial-up modem. Plug it into the wall, and it worked first time. Run the login program, and for a decade I enjoyed government (crown corporation) DSL service with zero hassles, pretty much rock solid service, and... pretty cheap. So - government service, high speed internet, rock solid, several hundred miles from the big city in a town of less than 25,000 people. Seriously, USA, what's your problem?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2016 @ 11:22am

      Re: Cant Trust Government Service???

      Remember that there where a lot of repeaters coils and other infrastructure that was literally in the way.

      Regular telephone only needs about 400~3000 hz worth of analog transmission data to carry voice. To improve the distance the coils and repeaters would extend and clean the line of noise, which means stripping everything that could operate in frequencies beyond that which voice used. Since DSL used frequencies outside of that range they were hampered by these old relics still sitting around the telco lines.

      And remember we lead the way for internet, it is real easy to pick on the people doing it all first without having the best clue. Those that came after us were able to build better infrastructure by learning from our mistakes and not repeating them.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 5:53am

        Re: Re: Cant Trust Government Service???

        "Those that came after us were able to build better infrastructure by learning from our mistakes and not repeating them."

        Which does nothing to prevent us from building better infrastructure. The only thing preventing us from doing so is a lack of competition.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2016 @ 3:22pm

      Re: Cant Trust Government Service???

      incubents that don't want to spend any money on providing the service they are paid millions in tax rebates for. When they can instead spend thousands bribing those in charge to look the other way when they refuse to provide the service they are paid to provide.

      The usual corruption.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Nov 2016 @ 11:24am

    I wonder if it's possible to publicly fund the largest lawsuit to end all lawsuits against the mega ISPs and legislators via the crowdsourcing model. Since they've put us in a position where we can't exactly boycott them, we need another way to throw around the might of the people against these corporations.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    pazuzzu (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 11:26am

    we're a capitalist society first and foremost. that means profits first and the consumer last, unless they pay...then next to last.

    the only other winner is the company selling KY Jelly™ to the consumers.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 1 Nov 2016 @ 12:17pm

    If you live in that area...

    Please send them an anonymous 'donation'. They can't 'sell' the service, but they can't keep you from sending them money.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Coises (profile), 3 Nov 2016 @ 12:20am

      Re: If you live in that area...

      My thought as well. If there is a way to do it without running afoul of the law, a community group in the affected area could set up a way of easily making donations that can be clearly counted to show that the community is willing to pay enough to maintain the service, even when they aren’t forced to do so.

      Wouldn’t that be a kick in the teeth to TWC and friends.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 1 Nov 2016 @ 2:40pm

    "law that prohibits fee-based municipal broadband beyond the county line"

    They aren't paying us for broadband, they are paying a modem rental fee. Comcast does it why can't we?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shane Killian, 1 Nov 2016 @ 4:50pm

    Here's the thing...

    Article 1 Section 34 of the North Carolina Constitution reads, in its entirety: "Perpetuities and monopolies are contrary to the genius of a free state and shall not be allowed."

    So, none of these ISPs should be monopolies to begin with!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Nov 2016 @ 2:21am

    And all the while hiking the prices wildly above inflation:
    Cable prices have risen at more than double the rate of inflation for 20 years - http://boingboing.net/2016/11/01/cable-prices-have-risen-at-mor.html

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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