This Idaho Town Lets You Switch Between Cheap Fiber ISPs In A Matter Of Seconds

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

In 2009, the FCC funded a Harvard study that concluded (pdf) that open access policies (letting multiple ISPs come in and compete over a central, core network) resulted in lower broadband prices and better service. Of course when the Obama 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.

Since then, "open access" has become somewhat of a dirty word in US 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. But building core infrastructure (sometimes with government's help, sometimes not), then forcing ISPs to come in and compete in layers remains a compelling idea America wants nothing to do with.

Well, most of America. Back in 2016, the city of Ammon, Idaho (population 16,500) decided to build an open access broadband network that let multiple private ISPs offer service to customers over city-owned fiber. The resulting competition has, several years later, resulted in (surprise), better, faster, and cheaper access to broadband. As a result, this city in Idaho now boasts better broadband infrastructure than most US "tech hubs" like San Francisco and Seattle, both of which have flirted with the idea but never followed through:

“If you were to ask me what the key component of Ammon is, I would say it’s a broadband infrastructure as a utility,” says Bruce Patterson, Ammon’s technology director and one of the key drivers behind the network. “We’ve just found a way to make it a true public infrastructure, like a road."

The city of Ammon manages the network the same way it handles water services or road maintenance. “If we could simply come to a point as a nation where we would say internet infrastructure is essential and we’re going to make sure that everybody has access to it,” Patterson says, “that would be a huge step forward.”

Through software virtualization, users on the network are allowed to switch ISPs with just a few clicks. Don't like prices or an ISP's privacy or net neutrality practices? You just switch. You can start to see why giants like AT&T and Comcast aren't particularly keen on this idea:

"By offering residents and businesses the option to own their own fiber, either paying up front (about $3,200) or $20 per month for 20 years, Ammon forces providers to compete for customers. There are eight local ISPs, and users can switch among them instantly without requiring a “truck roll” (a visit from the ISP to adapt hardware at the customer’s location), because Ammon uses software to “virtualize” the network.

To be clear community broadband isn't some mystical panacea where this will inevitably happen every time a community gets involved. These efforts are like any other business model, and require a solid plan and good people involved if they're going to succeed. The thing is, this is a decision that should be left up to towns and cities and their voters. Instead, we've let giants like AT&T and Comcast literally write the law in roughly 20 states banning your town or city from making up their own minds, preventing any exploration of creative alternatives to the status quo.

Huge swaths of the US government not only refuse to address the country's broadband competition issues; many insist there is no problem. Instead, they embrace mindlessly eliminating oversight of giants like Comcast under the false premise this somehow results in better service. When communities frustrated by terrible service then try to do something about it, they run face first into protectionist laws literally written by telecom giants. People then stand around with a dumb look on their face, wondering why US broadband is aggressively mediocre and expensive. The answer? Corruption and regulatory capture.

Filed Under: ammon, broadband, competition, fcc, idaho, municipal broadband, open access


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  • icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 12:19pm

    We have something like that in NYC

    In NYC, we have LinkNYC kiosks where payphones used to be where you could just log on and use the internet. It's very handy if you have a smartphone or Nintendo Switch and for some reason the internet in the local café isn't working.

    It's stuff like this (and this Idaho story) why infrastructure is key.

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

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:02pm

      Re: We have something like that in NYC

      In NYC, we have LinkNYC kiosks where payphones used to be where you could just log on and use the internet. It's very handy if you have a smartphone or Nintendo Switch and for some reason the internet in the local café isn't working.

      That's very different than what's described in the article above, no? A separate service for logging in is not the same as having open access competition on the network.

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

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:51pm

        Re: Re: We have something like that in NYC

        That's very different than what's described in the article above, no? A separate service for logging in is not the same as having open access competition on the network.

        I realized that as soon as I read the article. I wish there were a way to edit or delete my ignorant post, but trolls and ACs like out_of_the_blue is why we can't have nice things.

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

  • identicon
    Baron von Robber, 29 Oct 2019 @ 1:19pm

    True, open competition benefiting the consumer?! Not allowed in this admin. Hopefully the next.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:29pm

      Re: true competition

      "true open competition" has always been blocked by heavy government inteventions into cable/broadband.

      Nothing has changed on the government side to improve things.
      CommunityBroadband still has government in charge of the "competition", with concealed taxpayer subsidies to the heralded cheaper consumer rates.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:37pm

        Re: Re: true competition

        "true open competition" has always been blocked by heavy government inteventions into cable/broadband.

        With the Telcos driving that intervention by writing laws to protect their monopolies..

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

      • identicon
        Rocky, 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:53pm

        Re: Re: true competition

        CommunityBroadband still has government in charge of the "competition", with concealed taxpayer subsidies to the heralded cheaper consumer rates.

        Uhm, community broadband services are usually open to any operator. Any taxes invested into building these networks are actually a net positive for the whole community since a large part of the money stays in the community.

        If you sign up with <random big ISP> a major part of the money residents pay for their service disappear out of the community (and most likely the state).

        The whole thing is somewhat related to the Walmart-effect where a big player depresses the local economy.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      The name is Bonds. City Bonds., 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:42pm

      Re: No, it's SUBSIDY beneffiting CORPORATIONS.

      True, open competition benefiting the consumer?! Not allowed in this admin. Hopefully the next.

      Sheesh. You kids are so utterly clueless about economics that you don't even suspect nothin'.

      This is literally fascism.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:05am

      Re:

      Like it was really OPEN under OBAMA,...NOT!!! Like it'll ever change once Trump is out of office in 2024, Not!!!

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    The name is Bonds. City Bonds., 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:39pm

    What you LEAVE OUT is the not-very-hidden SUBSIDIES!

    First, there's NO mystery that Public Subsidy is great for corporations: small up-front costs, also little ongoing maintenance and risk (most of the network belongs to and therefore costs the city), just rake in profits.

    Second, evidently you fanboys are generations who don't understand compounding of interest. The city went into debt to build "infrastructure" for "private" corporations. Whatever amount will actually cost at least triple over 20 years, paid by general taxes.

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

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      The name is Bonds. City Bonds., 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:41pm

      Re: What you LEAVE OUT is the not-very-hidden SUBSIDIES!

      Next, anyone would be CRAZY to "own" at $3200 vs 20 a month! Over twenty years, that's also "opportunity cost" (of NOT investing) of at least three times -- WAY more if "stock market" / Bitcoin / next big thing goes up -- or bad news if your income goes down when the market crashes.

      This is also a crony system, or will be, inevitably; they'll be bought off to decide who's subsidized and gets profits. Simply expands the range of corruption.

      Last but not least: where's any guarantee that prices will be kept low? As you've noted for elsewhere, they'll tack on extras. -- ALL OF THEM, because (being "persons" with "rights") corporations can effectively collude and conspire and will, just like gasoline stations, same price all over town.

      Public Investment, Private Profits is a system known as fascism. It's the only system proposed at Techdirt, whether this or "platforms" controlling all speech outlets.


      Length limit again makes for two comments. -- Or, apparently length: when I cut this out, the first went right in.

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

      • icon
        Gary (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 3:01pm

        Re: Re: What you troll

        Length limit again makes for two comments

        Please don't tell us any more about your short length. Yeesh.

        But seriously - if you feel that TD isn't providing You the right forum for your rants, please show us to your much better website with no filters and no censorship!

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

        • identicon
          Fine Day for Zombie Hunting, 31 Oct 2019 @ 12:57pm

          Timothy Geigner also does the ultra-fanboy "Gary" account,

          I see you're being "generous" again with First and Last word awards! Now, anyone else would have to PAY for those, and that just isn't likely. "Gary" is the only one who's so generous. That's because TIMMY can do it for FREE.

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

      • identicon
        Rocky, 29 Oct 2019 @ 3:13pm

        Internet-slug smashes fist into his own face to spite opponent

        Can you explain why you are ranting about corporations when the whole thing is about a community broadband?

        Actually, don't bother.. I doubt you can produce anything that would make sense to anyone except yourself..

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:50pm

      Re: What you LEAVE OUT is the not-very-hidden LIES

      Just admit you lied about leaving forever bro.

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

    • identicon
      Rocky, 29 Oct 2019 @ 3:09pm

      Internet-slug leaves slimy trail of uninformed lies...

      City of Ammon’s Return on Broadband Investment
      Network Investment: $1 million
      Total Municipal Cost Reduction: $1,821,000 over 25 years
      Net Municipal Cost Reduction: $821,000 over 25 years
      Subscriber Savings: 56%
      GDP Increase: $4.7 million annually

      Over 25 years, the projected cost reductions will be at $44 million compared to $9 million in investments. The direct benefits over the period are projected to be about $78 million.

      You where saying?

      Should I perhaps include a link for you to read about basic economics or are you going be the utter coward as usual and slink off when someone presents some facts that proves you're wrong again?

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

      • icon
        Samuel Abram (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 3:46pm

        Re: Internet-slug leaves slimy trail of uninformed lies...

        Forget it. Blue has no principles whatsoever, except for "Techdirt is bad". Whether right or wrong, according to out_of_the_blue, Techdirt is always wrong, no matter the issue.

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 31 Oct 2019 @ 5:36am

          Re: Re: Internet-slug leaves slimy trail of uninformed lies...

          "Whether right or wrong, according to out_of_the_blue, Techdirt is always wrong, no matter the issue."

          You forgot "because pirates" at the end of that sentence. Blue/Bobmail only even goes after techdirt because ANY impartial fact-based tech forum is, by definition, the enemy of all that he stands for.

          Similarly to how he vents his spleen whenever Goliath...oops, Google...is mentioned.

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

          • identicon
            Fine Day for Zombie Hunting, 31 Oct 2019 @ 12:53pm

            "Scary Devil Monastery" made one comment, waited over 5 years...

            The Zombie resurrections almost never last long -- except for "Scary Devil Monastery" which made one comment, waited over 5 years to make a second, then took off at over 1000 a year! Anyone new, just go look at the 5 year gap after first of "Scary Devil Monastery" (easy way is on 2nd page, adjust the number up to total - 20):

            https://www.techdirt.com/user/perge74

            The "SDM" account is one of my best proofs. After total absence for FIVE YEARS, it turns out ardent Techdirt fanboy, vicious anti-dissent! You cannot explain those FACTS as other than astro-turfing.

            And of course, actually "SCM" is Timothy Geigner, who also does the ultra-fanboy "Gary" account, apparently with Masnick's permission. Way back, Masnick called Geigner Techdirt's "comment enforcer", and clearly still is.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 10:54pm

      Re: What you LEAVE OUT is the not-very-hidden SUBSIDIES!

      Your boring me.
      Suggest something that works or I will assume you are here to waste my time like you have the others here.

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

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 2:48pm

    Shocking news... you can do better than these corporations claim you deserve.

    One wonders what would have happened if we had never sold the poles to the incumbents & made it so others could easily addon.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 3:57pm

    Eight! Eight local ISPs!

    Eight!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:11am

      Re:

      I don't care if it's local city lines or their own lines. There should be 8 choices in every town and city. If Comcast and TWC and others each want to put up their own lines in a city, fine by me. If they want to all get in and combine the cost, great. But this forced Monopoly most everyone has is why we have high prices, poor service, and a dumb CAP!!!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 Oct 2019 @ 4:50pm

    Ammon's larger neighbor, Idaho Falls, is also going down this path. At a recent city council meeting, the council voted to approve rolling out a very similar model citywide after conducting a trial within a smaller portion of the city.

    https://www.eastidahonews.com/2019/10/idaho-falls-city-council-votes-to-extend-high-speed-fiber-net work-to-entire-city/

    As someone who lives in this community, I'm very glad to see this happening. Idaho Falls has provided business access to a city-owned fiber network for quite some time and having had the opportunity to personally use this system, the offerings blow the traditional (cable and phone company) offerings out of the water both in price and quality of service.

    Competition works wonders when you actually allow (and even facilitate!) competition.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 29 Oct 2019 @ 7:41pm

    ... and like that, they were gone.

    There are eight local ISPs, and users can switch among them instantly without requiring a “truck roll” (a visit from the ISP to adapt hardware at the customer’s location), because Ammon uses software to “virtualize” the network.

    Of course the likes of Comcast would hate such a system, they know full well that if there was actual competition available and swapping required a few seconds' worth of work that's how long it would take for a large chunk of their 'customers' to bail for another ISP.

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

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 30 Oct 2019 @ 4:45am

    Sounds like a socialist hellhole

    I want to go to there.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 5:49am

    oligopoly is the best we can hope for,

    but an oligopoly is better than a regional monopoly
    Like I've said before, if we can choose between multiple gas station [companies], and multiple grocery stores, we should also be able to choose between multiple ISPs in each American city (at least each large city).

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 9:15am

      Re: oligopoly is the best we can hope for,

      Yes, I don't care if it's the city that pays for the Network. It's paid for by the people who are using the service. So I don't consider it Socialism. If you're not using it, you're not paying for it.

      Or the other way is these company's come in and build their own network, or join up to build the Network. In either case, have 8 company's fighting for each and every user. That means lower prices, better service, and this whole CAP thing would also end. These government-created Monopolies need to go. That is the biggest problem.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 10:28am

    THIS IS AWESOME!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 Oct 2019 @ 11:14am

    Meet the new cord...same as the old cord.

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

  • icon
    Bliederkrantz (profile), 5 Nov 2019 @ 8:59am

    "If you're not using it, you're not paying for it"

    Really? You think if you don't pay the subsidy or the money up front you won't, as a member of the community, be paying for it? Just because you use less electricity than your neighbor do you think you're not paying for citywide upgrades? Seems naive.

    Will the network maintenance costs be be absorbed by the monthly fees each customer pays? What about upgrades to the CPE, network hardware and physical network? What about the technicians and call center to handle troubles? Can a city like this realize the economies of scale in operational costs like a regional or national provider who's been operating for years? Seriously.

    BTW. The consultant who suggested this approach (Entry Point) is the selling the city the billing/management software to allow businesses to "use the network". So, yes, you can switch anytime....but what will the difference in service be? Same network, same billing software, possibly different pricing but in the long run it will be the same since more can't run a business at a loss. Doesn't Entry Point then become a monopoly with their proprietary software that requires maintenance and updates going forward? This is a total boondoggle and will fail like 98% of them have across the country. Good luck. https://munibroadbandfailures.com/

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


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