Detroit The Latest City Forced To Cobble Together Working Internet Thanks To Telecom Market Failure

from the so-heartwarming! dept

Frustrated by slow speeds, high prices, and spotty broadband availability (read: market failure) more than 750 US towns and cities have explored some kind of home-grown broadband option. Sometimes that's a local cooperative. Sometimes it's an extension of the locally owned power utility. Sometimes it's a public/private partnership with an existing internet provider. And sometimes it involves building an entire local broadband network from scratch. But always it's motivated by one thing: an ever growing, multi-decade frustration at the lack of competition and options in the US broadband market.

Enter Detroit, which is the latest city where annoyed users are being forced to build an entirely new ISP block by block:

"Detroit has historically been one of the least connected cities in America, with about 40 percent of Detroit residents lacking any home internet access at all. Things are changing, though, thanks in large part to projects like the Equitable Internet Initiative (EII), a collaboration between the Detroit Community Technology Project and a network of community organizations."

The effort involves relying on voluntary bandwidth provided by local enterprise provider 123Net. From there, locals are getting speeds of 25 Mbps via point to point wireless. That's a notable improvement for the 40% of the city that has no access to broadband at all. Or other major chunks of the city, where aging AT&T DSL may be their only option. If you're really lucky, an expensive Comcast cable line is your only broadband option.

But there's something that grates on me about these stories and it's this: for whatever reason, most major press outlets covering broadband in 2021 act as if the "digital divide" is this thing that just dropped from the sky one day. But the reason it still exists in 2021 is due to the regional monopolization and the corruption (federal and local) that protects it. Consumer groups have repeatedly showcased how with no competition and feckless regulatory oversight, AT&T just often simply refuses to upgrade its aging network. They've also shown how this impacts marginalized and low-income communities the hardest:

But for whatever reason, The Hill writes an entire story about Detroit's broadband problems and... doesn't mention AT&T's regional monopolization or political and regulatory corruption at all. There's just no shortage of stories like this that cover America's broadband dysfunction and the ad hoc solutions people are forced to come up with to get online, yet just fail completely to explain why this is happening. And kind of like stories where a local kid has to crowdfund his open heart surgery because our medical system is broken, the press tends to frame these efforts as heartwarming.

But it's extremely rare you see major outlets clearly explain that US broadband dysfunction was an active policy choice. It's the direct result of 25 straight years of prioritizing the interests of regional monopolies, and coddling giants like Verizon, AT&T and Comcast. It's the direct result of signing off on mindless consolidation and harmful megamergers. It's the direct result of choosing not to embrace pro-competition policies. It's the direct result of repeatedly neutering telecom regulatory oversight under the (false) promise this somehow results in telecom Utopia (despite 25 years of evidence this isn't true).

At this point our broadband failures aren't a matter of technology, or cost. After all, we've thrown countless billions of dollars at these incumbent broadband giants for fiber networks that mysteriously always wind up half completed. They're the result of leadership failure and corruption. But instead of clearly acknowledging and fixing these problems, we seem obsessed with (as the Trump era made fairly clear) doubling down on the bad choices that created them. Then dismissing the high prices, spotty coverage, and substandard service as just something that appeared one day, utterly free of any meaningful causation.

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Filed Under: community broadband, competition, detroit, fcc, municipal broadband


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2021 @ 6:41am

    'The Hill writes an entire story about Detroit's broadband problems and... doesn't mention AT&T's regional monopolization or political and regulatory corruption at all'

    the only reason for this, surely, is fear or reprisals! if the corruption involved was even mentioned, those politicians concerned, whether national or local, would be fearful that the truth would come out, so they would double down and produce whatever scandalous evidence they needed that it was all the fault of the cities, the citizens or the delabidated buildings. in no way would it be the fault of them for throwing billions of dollars at the companies or of the companies for doing, if lucky, 5% of what they should!

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

  • icon
    bynkman (profile), 10 Jun 2021 @ 7:26am

    Let's not forget political stonewalling by the incumbents, and arcane telecom laws and red tape that practically kill additional parties efforts. Google Fiber tried, and was so hindered in many areas that they gave up there, and eventually abandoned even trying.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2021 @ 8:03am

      Re:

      Google Fiber tried, and was so hindered in many areas that they gave up there, and eventually abandoned even trying.

      And if a company with the money and resources of Google decides it's too hard, what hope is there for anyone else to break in to the market?

      Yeah, sure, politicians... Big Tech is the major problem these days /eyeroll

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

      • identicon
        Sharur, 10 Jun 2021 @ 9:00am

        Re: Re:

        Absolutely, Big Tech is the problem....Big Telephone Tech!

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

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 10 Jun 2021 @ 9:14am

        Re: Re:

        There are a ton of reasons Google gave up.
        Including hte cities demanding HOW it had to be installed.
        1 way to install was to go into the sewer system, but I think that was nix'ed as our water systems are about as NEW as 50-100 years old.

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

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 10 Jun 2021 @ 10:59pm

        Re: Re:

        My rule of thumb is that if someone whines about the power of "big tech", but they exclude ISPs from that term, their take on the situation can be easily dismissed. Someone who thinks that not being allowed on Facebook is worse than Viacom stopping them from accessing work, banking and thousands of other services has nothing of value to add to a conversation.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2021 @ 1:00am

        Re: Re:

        if a company with the money and resources of Google decides it's too hard, what hope is there for anyone else to break in to the market?

        Most countries regulate encumbent telcos to ensure there's competition—typically, by forcing them to sell wholesale network access to other ISPs. And then there's the USA, where the idea of effective regulation is seen as so absurdly unlikely that our best hope is, seriously, to launch 42,000 satellites into space to fix this problem (...which it won't).

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2021 @ 9:29am

    the only way to beat this is to weed out the politicians who keep siding with the telecoms industries, signing over $billions of tax payer money for no return other than into those same politicians pockets! name them and shame them and then go after the comany heads! if the source isn't dried up, they'll keep grabbing as much as they can for as long as they can with both hands! and the FCC is a total waste of time! they think they're still in charge, like they were under Trump, continuously screwing the public while making their industry friends ever more rich!!

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 10 Jun 2021 @ 9:42am

    Did some digging.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tier_1_network

    I keep wondering WHO owns the Tier 1 access, as we keep hearing only 1- names.
    (Old) centurylink (New) Lumen tech
    Sprint
    Verizon
    Zayo Group

    Some of the Info here is interesting, as it was funded and Supported by the Gov. Then was taken over by the corps. Then we started getting Charged for it.

    https://asrank.caida.org/
    Service rank based on connections to other systems.

    1. Level 3
    2. GTT
    3. Cogent
    4. NTT
    5. Hurricane
    6. TATA
    7. Zayo
    8. Level 3(again)
    9. PCCW
      More at site.
      DOnt totally match the first site list, unless They are owned from the other corps.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Internet_exchange_points
    The Internet has 3 layers but the big part is Where they connect.
    Look under Asia This is the Pacific islands, then the United states.
    And you wondered Why you connected threw 6+ systems just to go from here to there. Look at the last section of the USA, where others tend to have a Group, ours is TBD. We dont really know how they all interconnect.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 10 Jun 2021 @ 9:48am

      Re: Did some digging.

      For all of this, its Who owns what and who, and Who is gettng the money that What wants.
      After the money goes threw more then 2-3 companies there shouldnt be much left. Or its another game of hide the pea.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 10 Jun 2021 @ 7:19pm

      Re: Did some digging.

      Backbone providers (as you seem to intend to demonstrate through your use of ranked autonomous systems) aren't the problem for customer access. Except inasmuch as they are also owned or have been bought by consumer-facing ISP companies.

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

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 11 Jun 2021 @ 12:42pm

        Re: Re: Did some digging.

        But its trying to find that Sub company of the Sub company.
        Now lets ask how much of the Backbone in the USA has been updated.
        No company in my life has ever given MORE for less, unless the company that OWNED that company was the next down the line, but then Over inflated the Cost, just to declare a loss or Not to show it was Less expensive.

        Has the main backbone really improved? Or is it a rabbit hole with more restriction given to the users.
        Lets say you get 100mbps, what should your Ping be between here and there. Then what is it at 150mbps or faster. When I had Dialup, I was at 300-400 ping. Im at 50 ping to most sites now. At over 200 times faster shouldnt it be abit better, if things are Supposed to be better>?

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

  • identicon
    Dave, 10 Jun 2021 @ 1:18pm

    It's only a matter of time before Big Telecom targets this grassroots effort in Detroit with legal action in an attempt to torpedo it.

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

  • icon
    Bob Frankston (profile), 11 Jun 2021 @ 7:26am

    Telecommunications is an industry based on a lie

    We act as if the Internet is a fluid that comes through pipes and that telephony is a service. We need to shift from 19th-century telecom to an infrastructure model and stop trying to pretend that each inch of fiber has to be profitable in isolation.

    I go into this in more detail in https;//rmf.vc/IEEEBBToInfrastructure.

    We know the current approach doesn't work so why do we keep repeating the same failed approach when a few percent of the road budget would be used to fund it all.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 11 Jun 2021 @ 2:19pm

      Re: Telecommunications is an industry based on a lie

      The infrastructure we have is Pre-1934 and then allow for updates in the 70's then 80's then the middle 1990's.
      90% of it didnt really change allot.
      PTLD, had a 6% coverage in town, in the 1990's then the internet hit hard, and they had to get it up to over 80%. took them about 8-12 months to wire up fiber to each of the relay stations. but does that cover everything? not really. Population growth sucks.

      The interconnects are all the same as before the 1990's. A location where 1 system connects to another. The net isnt a NET, its a balls of strings, wrapped up into a mess of a ball and Tied knots all threw the ball. And a few loose strings still inside it.
      The REAL updates to the infrastructure are based on What is broken. Nothing more. The Current group of ISP' owners are bill collectors, and not much else. If you arnt in a High pay district, they dont care much until someone gets a HOT poker out and Shoves them to get things done. But then they hire another group to do the work. ANd blame them if it aint done.

      We might as well create a TON of jobs, and just get it all done and then sell it back or Sell access to the corps. Nothing in this nation was ever fully done by the corps, unless the gov. Backed it up with money or built it themselves.

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

  • identicon
    Lisboeta, 11 Jun 2021 @ 7:52am

    So last century!

    The telcom/broadband captive markets in the US are incomprehensible to us in Europe -- and the rest of the developed world. How long will it take before the US recognises the benefits of something like LLU? Ah, I forgot: it's 'socialism'.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 11 Jun 2021 @ 10:24am

      Re: So last century!

      If you mean local loop unbundling, the USA has had it since 1996. The term "local loop" only refers to analog telephone lines—not fiber or cable, and in the USA, not wires to remote DSLAMs—which makes it pretty useless for any loops longer than 500-1000 meters (the distance at which VDSL2 can give 50-100 Mbit/s).

      The USA also used to require the telcos to sell wholesale DSL connections to ISPs (with the telco running the DSLAM), but the telcos somehow convinced the FCC it was unfair, so now it's not required. A moot point anyway because they've left these networks to rot.

      What's needed is something like OpenReach in the UK, where wire providers cannot be ISPs. Or municipal open-access networks like Ammon, O. In the long term, the big American ISPs might be fucking themselves—since country-wide rules seem politically impossible, they might find themselves having to deal with hundreds of different rulesets by state and city.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 12 Jun 2021 @ 12:26pm

      Re: So last century!

      What would be nice, is IF'
      Someone would explain Socialism to the USA.

      It was made a bad word by a Politician, Long ago, and its a Key word to mean bad things.

      "In the United States, anti-communism came to prominence during the First Red Scare of 1919–1920. During the 1920s and 1930s, opposition to communism in Europe was promoted by conservatives, fascists, liberals, and social democrats."

      https://ap.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/fifties/essays/anti-communism-1950s

      McC arthy(real strange person) running around scaring people who were more Thinkers then anything.
      using words MOST Americans didnt know "Bolshevik Revolution" Which was the democratic party, the majority rule.
      Confusion is the best way to cover your tracks, and point to Faults that have nothing to do with reality.

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


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