from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept
The laws are usually passed under the pretense of protecting communities from their own financial missteps, with assorted industry mouthpieces like Marsha Blackburn playing up the failures of a few select municipal broadband projects. Of course, like any business plan, these ventures can be built on solid or rotten frames, and several have been quite successful. In contrast, these protectionist laws take local choice away entirely, replacing it with mechanisms that do little more than insulate the nation's lumbering broadband mono/duopoly from competition of any kind.
Fortunately, in the last year or so, these laws have started to see some renewed public attention as projects like Google Fiber have people clamoring for faster, cheaper broadband service.
Colorado's 2005 state law hindering community broadband bills was pushed for by local incumbents CenturyLink (formerly Qwest) and Comcast, which, like AT&T, have a long and quite sleazy history of passing awful laws, trying to sue such operations out of existence, or engaging in misleading disinformation campaigns (like telling locals their taxpayer money will go toward subsidizing porn). In Colorado's case, the 2005 law fortunately included provisions allowing locals to build networks if they call for an election. Last week, Boulder and six other communities voted to move forward with the idea of building their own networks.
Comcast is busy in Washington trying to maintain a clean facade in order to get regulatory approval of its $45 billion acquisition of Time Warner Cable, so it didn't challenge the efforts, something that helps explain the campaign's success:
"How were they able to secure such a big victory? There might be some factors at work that are bigger than even Colorado. Comcast, the state's largest cable provider, did not fight the referendum, perhaps because it is focused on getting its proposed merger with Time Warner Cable approved in Washington. (Comcast declined to comment for this report.)"Like so many technology issues (net neutrality springs to mind), this issue of community broadband has somehow been caught in the partisan politics team cheerleading wormhole, even though letting a giant corporation write your state laws and erode local authority simply to protect its mono/duopoly revenues isn't something either Conservatives or Progressives would support in a sane world. Refreshingly, a lot of the community revolt against these laws currently occurring in places like Colorado, North Carolina and Tennessee is being championed by Republicans and Democrats alike, who collectively (though belatedly) seem to have realized that better, cheaper broadband ultimately benefits everybody.
Earlier this year, FCC boss Tom Wheeler stated he'd be using the FCC's authority to ensure "timely" broadband deployment to dismantle portions of some of these laws, though the net neutrality debate appears to have put the issue on the back burner. That's a shame, since we've long pointed out that net neutrality issues are only a symptom of the deeper issue: a lack of competition. Dismantling idiotic laws purchased by ISPs to maintain that status quo is the very first place we need to look if that problem is ever going to be seriously addressed.