The Fastest ISP In America Is Community Owned And Operated

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

We've long noted that community broadband networks are just an organic response to the broken, uncompetitive US broadband market. While you'll occasionally see some deployment duds if the business models aren't well crafted, studies have shown such networks (there are 750 and counting now in the States) offer cheaper, faster service than many incumbents. In short, these communities grew so frustrated with America's mediocre, patchy, and expensive broadband service, they built their own.

This direct threat to incumbent revenues is a major reason why ISP lobbyists have passed protectionist laws in more than 21 states trying to block your town's ability to even consider the option. It's also why you'll often see the telecom sector and its various, obedient tendrils routinely try to claim these networks are a vile menace to free speech (they're not) or a guaranteed waste of taxpayer funds (again, not true at all).

Here in reality, many of these networks are outperforming their private sector counterparts. Chattanooga's EPB, for example, was rated one of the best ISPs in America by Consumer Reports, despite Comcast's efforts to sue the effort out of existence. And this week, PC Magazine's ratings of the fastest and most popular ISPs showed that Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU), a locally-owned utility providing broadband out of Cedar Falls, Iowa, offers the fastest averaged speed ratings the magazine's researchers have ever seen:

Verizon's Fios was the top rated private ISP, and notice where they fall in the comparison above. From the full report:

"Cedar Falls Utilities (CFU) out of Cedar Falls, Iowa, has the fastest average PCMag Speed Index we've ever seen. Even individual towns with fast speeds were never capable of this in our previous tests. (Pick your jaw up off the floor so you can start searching Zillow for house listings there.) Its PSI of 1,350.4 shows what's possible when your state doesn't block municipal ISPs that are part of a town/city utility. (They are blocked in about half of the US.)

The Cedar Falls effort is one of the oldest and most successful community networks to date, and now it's the fastest -- by a wide margin. That lawmakers continue to pass and defend protectionist state laws literally written by Comcast and AT&T prohibiting such efforts where applicable continues to be a nationwide embarrassment. If ISPs really wanted to put these efforts to bed, they'd offer faster, cheaper, better service. Instead, we get FCC officials trying to falsely claim such networks trample your free speech rights.

To be clear, community networks aren't a panacea. But they're not automatic taxpayer disasters, either. In many areas, courtesy of limited competition and feckless, campaign cash compromised lawmakers and regulators, they're the only thing pressuring regional telecom monopolies to actually try and do better. And as this Harvard study illustrated quite well, because they're actually part of the community they serve, they tend to have a vested interest in their communities' welfare, resulting in better, faster, cheaper broadband and decent customer service.

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Filed Under: broadband, cedar falls, competition, iowa, muni broadband
Companies: cedar falls utilities


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  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 6:32am

    Richard Bennett's not going to like this, is he?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 6:34am

    of course it is! it isn't inhibited by a CEO trying to milk the company! it isn't inhibited by a customer services team, instructed to be as obnoxious and unhelpful as possible! it isn't inhibited by the desire to ensure that there is no competition that may reduce revenue! but mostly, and i could be wrong, but i doubt it isn't inhibited because it didn't have to pay any back hander monies to members of Congress in order to receive a bucket load of cash from public coffers, tax breaks or other 'help', just to exist!!

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

    • identicon
      MathFox, 23 Jun 2020 @ 6:52am

      Good business is giving the consumer what he/she wants against a reasonable price. An ISP can do good business whether it is privately or community owned; but good business starts with proper management.
      If the C?O's have "too big to fail" grandeur, the customer is losing or running away.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 8:47am

        Re:

        Good business is giving the consumer what he/she wants against a reasonable price.

        I doubt many customers knew they wanted 1.9 Gbps upload speeds. That's impressive, and probably appreciated by parents who need to work from home while several kids upload videos.

        Really, it's not much harder than providing electricity or water. The equipment's available on the open market; they just need to dig trenches and erect poles for the wiring, have a small group of competent people to manage the network, and avoid fucking up the customer service (but people don't call when things are working well, and the population is only 40,000).

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

        • identicon
          Zubotai, 23 Jun 2020 @ 9:38am

          Re: Re:

          Imagine what cities could do. If your kids are in school they could offer free internet. In the COVID era this would be a life saver. Heck promote local businesses. Kinda wish we had community ISP where I live.

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 10:09am

            Re: Re: Re:

            If your kids are in school they could offer free internet. In the COVID era this would be a life saver.

            Yup. Once the wires are there, Google found it cost so little to operate that they could offer service for free. They stopped doing it, but the deal was "$300 [installation fee] the first year and nothing the following six years for speeds of up to 5 megabits per second"—which is $3.60 per month.

            One would still need a computer. Libraries often let people borrow cheap ones (eg. Chromebooks).

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 12:23pm

            Re: Re: Re:

            Heck promote local businesses.

            An open-access network could be great news for local ISPs. In the 90s, anyone could buy a bunch of phone lines and set up a local ISP. Now, one needs to run wires all over the city, which means huge capital costs—closing the market to independent startups.

            CFU is a full ISP rather than an open-access network. It's not an idea I love, but I understand there might be good reasons for that. CFU is also a TV provider, and I have a bigger problem with municipal entities negotiating with content providers; at least for this portion of the business, I might prefer the Ammon, ID model.

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

  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 23 Jun 2020 @ 7:15am

    To do or not to do, depends on who's pockets we're filling

    Does anyone here know what is different, from a technical standpoint, about the Cedar Falls Utility network setup?

    Other municipal broadband providers might be interested, for sure. Commercial providers either won't want to know, or do want to know because it will give them a list of things not to do.

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

    • identicon
      MathFox, 23 Jun 2020 @ 7:53am

      Re: To do or not to do, depends on who's pockets we're filling

      What is remarkable is that they offer a 10Gbit customer link. And it performs at somewhere between 1 and 2 Gbit/s. All in all it suggests that they have 100GBit uplinks... Must have spent some dollars on their networking hardware.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 7:31pm

        Re: Re: To do or not to do, depends on who's pockets we're filli

        Uplinks are not that expensive. But they can be astronomical if you purchase name brand. I almost wonder if it is a joke. Just looked up a 10gbps Cisco branded sfp. Runs around $700. Generic runs $18. I have not noticed a difference in failure rate. You probably could find the name brands cheaper but this was just comparing CDW and FS.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 9:20am

      Re: To do or not to do, depends on who's pockets we're filling

      Does anyone here know what is different, from a technical standpoint, about the Cedar Falls Utility network setup?

      They appear to be using NG-PON2, on which Wikipedia has details. In other words, there's nothing all that special. It's standard 5-year-old technology. They just need to manage it well, and be willing upgrade once in a while.

      The major commercial ISPs in America are well aware of the available technology. In all likelihood, the network engineers are begging the businesspeople for a chance to try it.

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

      • icon
        arp2 (profile), 23 Jun 2020 @ 12:31pm

        Re: Re: To do or not to do, depends on who's pockets we're filli

        ISP's sweat assets like nobody's business. A large part of their estate is LDOS/EOX and they just bully the hardware/software providers to support.

        A large part of their business model is to get government subsidies to increase and expand access and do the bare minimum to not get in trouble (which is nothing in the world of Pai).

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

  • icon
    Jeremy Lyman (profile), 23 Jun 2020 @ 8:22am

    The Quibbler

    Small note: FIOS isn't the top rated "private ISP" it's the top rated "major ISP" as defined by "least a million customers across multiple states". There are a few faster private networks on the list.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2020 @ 8:36am

    if only there were a law...

    If only there were a law, no a Constitutional amendment, prohibiting lobbying (a.k.a. bribery). Then maybe we could have less monopolies, and more competition in these 'essential' services.
    If only there were Congressional Term Limits...

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 23 Jun 2020 @ 1:34pm

    Anh reasoning..

    To only allow Selected ISP's to hold sway?
    Hmmm.
    Easier to control 1 Big corp then 200 Towns/cities with their own system?? AND their own laws? City, county, state and fed laws CAN be different. Much easier to control 1 corp.

    But what happens?
    What does the Corp want for the services its rendering?
    Then HOW do you show the WORLD that the USA is STILL a free country?
    Many of the other developed countries have a better system then ours..
    Many of those countries keep pounding on the Internet systems on the NET, not the ISP's. Only because OVER there, its not the ISP's that have the money.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 23 Jun 2020 @ 3:05pm

    Imagine that

    Funny what you can accomplish when the goal is providing the best service you can rather than seeing how much money you can squeeze out of your customers...

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

  • icon
    nerdrage (profile), 23 Jun 2020 @ 5:03pm

    YAY SONIC!

    Hey there's my ISP at #3...hmm personally I don't get very fast speeds from them but they support net neutrality and the options aren't all that hot, so I guess I'll stick with them. I can always switch to my hotspot when Sonic is having another tummyache.

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


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