Small Idaho City Shows The Benefits Of Open Access Broadband Networks

from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept

In 2009, the FCC funded a Harvard study that concluded (pdf) that open access broadband networks (letting multiple ISPs come in and compete over a central, core network) resulted in lower broadband prices and better service. Of course when the FCC released its flimsy, politically timid "National Broadband Plan" back in 2010, this realization (not to mention an honest accounting of the sector's limited competition) was nowhere to be found. Both parties ignored the data and instead doubled down on our existing national telecom policy plan: letting AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast do pretty much whatever they'd like.

Since then, "open access" has become somewhat of a dirty word in telecom, and even companies like Google Fiber -- which originally promised to adhere to the concept on its own network before quietly backpedaling -- are eager to pretend the idea doesn't exist.

The town of Ammon, Idaho showcases precisely why telecom giants are so worried. The town built a locally owned 30 mile fiber network, then invited ISPs to come in and compete under an open access model. Locals currently have four ISPs to chose from (with more presumably coming), and users can switch ISPs in a matter of seconds. This week, Ammon Mayor Sean Coletti took to Twitter to highlight the benefits of this competition, noting that one of the ISPs using the network was offering 15 Mbps broadband for as little as $1.88 a month:

Granted there's a catch here (isn't there always?). That $2 doesn't include a tax assessment of $10 to $15 (levied separately), plus a $16.50 utility fee intended to help pay off the bonds used to fund the project. Still, the service (especially faster speeds) winds up being dramatically cheaper than most local ISPs, especially telcos still charging an arm and a leg for sluggish DSL. It's also hard to quantify the value of user control. Unlike most markets (where users only have the choice of one ISP), Ammon residents can just quickly switch to a different ISP should their current one offer terrible customer service, or engage in privacy or net neutrality violations (both arguably symptoms of limited competition).

A video from a few years ago by the Institute for Local Self Reliance took a closer look at Ammon's network, and featured several ISPs that were happy to have access to cheaper fiber. They were also more than happy to compete because, as one small ISP executive put it, "it keeps us on top of the game so we can continue to provide a superior product and no one gets lackadaisical":

It shouldn't be particularly hard to see why natural monopolies like Comcast, who've been allowed to apathetically nickel and dime American consumers for years, are terrified of such proposals. It's largely because it raises the question: what if we treated broadband more like an essential utility? One where locally-owned and operated networks had a direct, financial interest in the contentment of the public? One where private ISPs partner with locals in layers of competition? That's not to say community broadband and open access are the solution for every market. But after decades of doubling down on bad ideas and worse outcomes in US telecom, it's an idea that's worth at least paying attention to.

Filed Under: ammon, broadband, competition, idaho, municipal broadband, open access, sean coletti, unbundling
Companies: ammon fiber


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 7:19am

    That $2 doesn't include a tax assessment of $10 to $15 (levied separately), plus a $16.50 utility fee intended to help pay off the bonds used to fund the project.

    It's not $2, it's $2/month. Are the other numbers monthly too? Usually property taxes are stated annually.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 8:40am

      Re:

      $33.00 a month for 15/15 is a good rate. Cheaper then DSL at that rate with the advantage of being symetric not 15/.86 bit rate.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 9:37am

        Re: Re:

        The (2-year-old) Ars article does say they're monthly. It's a good rate by American standards, but people in some European countries might expect TV and phone too for that price.

        A decent DSL rollout can already do 10 Mbps upstream (various ISPs on the Bell Canada network sell it). VDSL2 can do 100 Mbps upstream, and bonding can double that, but it doesn't make much sense to roll out a new VDSL2 network. Fiber can do much better without heroic RF research projects (and powered equipment on every block).

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 2:36pm

      Re: Cost

      'total' cost to Ammon subscribers is more like $55 per month

      Biggie is the "Installation Fee" (about $3300) to get hookup to an individual home.
      Residents can pay this big fee upfront in full or finance it long term with the city government ($18.50 per month for 20 years).
      Most people are choosing the long term financing.
      City places a special property tax assessment on the home property for 20 years -- it can be paid off at any time or automatically dumped on next buyer(s) of that property.

      Ammon city population is only 14,000 and City had to come up with over a million dollars just to start up this broadband project.

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

  • identicon
    Bobvious, 10 Jun 2019 @ 7:29am

    For too long Ammon's ISPs have been

    living in their own private Idaho cable monopolies.

    "If you've got connectivity, that's all we've promised... Sucks to be you"

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 8:04am

    It is not a tax assessment.
    Fiber is extended to the property at the request of the property owner.
    The municipality offers municipal Bond funding attached to the property if needed by the property owner.
    it is a one-time fee for installation and can be paid off at any time or left on the property and paid over time.
    The bond is not paid through the tax assessment but rather build separately on an annual basis until paid off.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 2:43pm

      Re:

      it is an extra property tax assessment that shows up on the annual property tax bill for 20 years (unless resident pays it off earlier)

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 8:50am

    Four ISP options???

    I'm so jealous.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 10 Jun 2019 @ 9:06am

    So, when the bonds are paid off, does that fee go away? or is it replaced by new "bonds" to continue paying for CAPEX? If that's a monthly tax assessment, then it's too high. Realistically, $20/mo. (total) would still generate profit at such a low speed presuming most passed homes sign up.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 12:38pm

      Re:

      NO. once the bond or construction fee is paid off. You will not get another fee. You already paid for your connection so all you have left is the $16.50 utility fee you pay monthly

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

  • icon
    wevrem (profile), 10 Jun 2019 @ 9:22am

    Way to go, Idaho!

    This is where I grew up and went to high school. Lots of common sense folks in this area. Happy for them and slightly jealous at the same time.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 9:27am

    Has Marsha Blackburn not seen this yet?

    How can such an abomination (competition) be allowed to live? Where are the 'breathless' legislators rushing to stamp out this vile despicable attitude (don't think about what they were doing that caused them to be breathless, or what they may have been sucking on...)

    For the good of Verizon, will SOMEONE throw out a bill written by the telecom's and 'birthed' into legislation by some captured crony who will do whatever Telecom says (like Marsha Blackburn?)

    WWMB do? Come on people, we need some 'grass roots' resistance to lower prices and increased competition, these things can not be allowed to exist, people can't hear about them, they can't be featured in 'best network practices' recognition, or people will start to get realistic ideas... ideas will lead to revolution from the status quo, and the revolution has to go round...

    Bogus Legislation
    by Bleed, Sweet, & Tars (copy right anymouse commentor Techdirt 6-10-19) read/sing to the tune of Spinning Wheel

    What goes up, must come down
    Bogus legislation got to go 'round
    Talking 'bout your troubles is a cryin sin
    Ride a painted pony and let the bogus legislation spin...

    You got no money and you got no home
    Bogus legislation got you all alone
    Talkin' 'bout your troubles and you, you never learn
    Ride a painted pony let the bogus legislation turn

    Did you find the directing $ign on the
    Straight and narrow bylaws
    Would you mind a reflecting $ign
    Just let it $hine within your mind
    And show you the Color$ that are real

    Someone is waiting just for you
    Spinnin' wheel, spinnin' true
    Drop all your Bribes by the riverside
    Catch a painted pony on the bogus legislation ride

    Someone is waiting just for you
    Spinnin' wheel, spinnin' true
    Drop all your Bribes by the riverside
    Catch a painted pony on the bogus legislation fly

    This is my personal IP, any use is COPYLOCKED for the next 3 generations (forget copyright/copyleft we just lock everything up for 3 generations before we let anyone see it, I'm sure these will be great ideas when they are unveiled in 30 years...) This somewhat original homage is my personal creation, use it at your own risk (all your bases will belonging to me...)

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

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 10 Jun 2019 @ 10:00am

      Re: Has Marsha Blackburn not seen this yet?

      Blackburn's been pushing legislation to decrease states' ability to regulate broadband for years, first in the House and now in the Senate.

      Sometimes congressional gridlock can be a good thing.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2019 @ 10:17am

        Re: Re: Has Marsha Blackburn not seen this yet?

        Sometimes congressional gridlock can be a good thing

        That's pretty much all of the time. Almost nothing congress has passed in recent memory has been good for the average American and has only benefitted corporations or the government itself. If they get gridlocked then it's all the better for the American public.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Jun 2019 @ 1:33pm

    To many states...

    Made deals, under the table, Beyond Franchise fee's...
    I would love to know how much these kick backs are.
    There have been a couple lists, but it cant be all thats out there.
    You need 50+% to get these passed, or enough people to Debate any changes to what IS'..
    Odd's are that a few people in office are Dolling out the extra money, like drug dealers..to get the votes to Stop any changes.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2019 @ 7:42am

      Re: To many states... - Deals under the table

      Ask the Russians. If the Mueller report is correct then the GRU (and presumably the FSB) is spying on all American officials of any importance. Since state officials frequently become federal officials, there is reason to expect that intelligence services pay attention to the states also.

      Presumably the GRU and FSB know where the dirt lies. Probably so does Mossad (Israeli Intelligence) and Chinese Intelligence. We should figure out how to obtain the data from them. If we took up a collection, could we buy the data? Wouldn't it be fun if any of these Intelligence services revealed where the state dirt is, a couple of months before the next election?

      Note: GRU is Russian Military Intelligence, the FSB is Russian State Security (successor to the KGB).

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

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 12 Jun 2019 @ 2:45pm

        Re: Re: To many states... - Deals under the table

        well considering that there is always a 50/50 chance a person INSIDE would love to send us the info...
        Its finding the perosn that can do it..

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

  • identicon
    Wutsinterweb, 11 Jun 2019 @ 6:35am

    Why This?

    With all our priorities shouldnt we be taking care of the needy? Starving kids need food, not internet. Let's not be greedy.

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

  • icon
    Remi Qaine (profile), 11 Jun 2019 @ 2:04pm

    PUD Fiber networks rule

    I live in Wenatchee, WA and both the Chelan and Douglas counties massively invested in their own fiber networks here. We get 20MB for $30, 100MB for $55 and 1GB for $65. No contracts, throttling, quotas or any of that crap.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 13 Jun 2019 @ 10:38am

      Re: PUD Fiber networks rule

      I grew up in Pendleton.. Im in Idaho and I should move..

      Its funny, that I know a couple companies and have suggested, insted of working for the corps, wonder around hitting up the small towns... They could keep their Teams up and working and TRAINING to install into the larger cities..

      But they dont get it..they have no idea of how fast this could setup the whole nation..
      AND insted of paying the CORPS, pay direct to the INSTALLERS...

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


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