from the build-it-yourself dept
Shortly after Charter Communications (Spectrum) acquired Time Warner Cable in 2016, the company simply stopped negotiating with its unionized employees in the New York City region. Not long after in 2017, around 1,800 Charter employees went on strike over a lack of any traction on healthcare and pensions… and they’ve been on strike ever since. At four years and counting, it’s technically the longest strike in US history, and there’s absolutely zero indication that Charter has any real interest in negotiating with the striking employees.
That said, they’ve been productive in their free time. Many members of IBEW Local #3 have been busy building their own broadband internet service provider (ISP) in the New York City region. Like the 750 other US towns and cities that have explored community broadband, the effort was born out of frustration with entrenched regional telecom monopolies:
“Watching every elected official constantly talk about finding a way to fix a problem while ignoring the solution we were already giving them motivated us,? (union worker and project lead Troy Walcott said). ?Having elected officials thank us quietly for our sacrifice but not say anything about our strike publicly motivated us. Seeing customers denied service during COVID because they had outstanding bills motivated us.”
So the union employees built an ISP, dubbed People’s Choice Communications, that uses both fixed and wireless to deliver broadband for as little as $10 to $20 per month. It’s so cheap because the model is effectively a cooperative, where the profits are shared by local customers. From the outfit’s website:
“After we build out a network in your building, it transfers to cooperative ownership, so profits are returned to users,? the organization?s website states. ?We are able to provide high-speed service in most cases for $10 to $20 a month. No more cable company ripping you off, and as an owner, you have a vote in policies like data privacy.”
Granted, like other similar ventures like NYC Mesh, we’re not talking about massive scale here. Such options lack the political and financial power to seriously challenge an entrenched regional monopoly like Charter, which is only growing more powerful as US telcos effectively give up on upgrading their residential networks in many markets because it’s not profitable enough, quickly enough, for Wall Street.
But collectively, community broadband remains an undeniable movement as a growing roster of US towns and cities, pissed off after decades of monopolist dysfunction, eye building their own networks. That’s not only bringing faster, cheaper options to market, but it’s also the only thing really forcing many entrenched monopolies to try harder given the lack of US broadband competition and competent regulatory oversight. That’s why said monopolies have effectively bought laws in 18 (soon to be 17) states hamstringing or banning local voters from pursuing the option.