from the if-you-build-it-they-will-come dept
For years, a growing number of US towns and cities have been forced into the broadband business thanks to US telecom market failure. Frustrated by high prices, lack of competition, spotty coverage, and terrible customer service, some 750 US towns and cities have explored some kind of community broadband option. And while the telecom industry (and the lawmakers, regulators, and policy wonks paid to love them) routinely tries to paint such projects as radical socialist boondoggles that always end in failure, that’s never actually been true.
The latest case in point: once a year PC Magazine offers a breakdown of the fastest broadband networks in the United States. And this year, as usual, the list is dominated by community-owned and operated broadband networks. Look at the list of the fastest ISPs in the nation overall:
Three of the fastest ISPs are directly owned by the city (Longmont, Colorado?s Nextlight, Chattanooga, Tennessee?s EPB Fiber, and Cedar Falls, Iowa?s CFU). These same ISPs, not coincidentally, also tend to score really well on overall consumer satisfaction studies. And the fastest ISP in the country (Empire Access) makes heavy use of an open access middle mile fiber network funded in large part by the public. Other companies, like Ting and Google Fiber are tightly partnered with local municipalities and regional fiber networks as well.
Data just keeps showing how locally-owned and operated public networks routinely offer better, faster, and cheaper service. But instead of embracing such options, our heavily compromised US regulators have either tried to hamstring them via dodgy state laws, or exploit myopic partisanship to demonize them (“socialism!” “government run amok!” “a terrible affront to the miraculous free market!”). Despite such networks seeing broad, bipartisan public support, House Republicans just this year tried to ban them completely across the entire United States. It’s just blisteringly ignorant corruption.
As the Institute for Local Self Reliance notes, it’s easier and cheaper for a politically powerful regional telecom monopoly like AT&T to pay off a few lawmakers than it is to actually try harder. But try as they may to demonize such projects, their popularity and effectiveness continues to speak for itself:
“Monopoly providers have often trotted out the claim that modern network infrastructure is too complicated and costly for local communities to build and operate successfully. It?s an argument that doesn?t stand up to scrutiny, and even less so given that not only do modestly sized cities beat out the national ISPs for pure speed, they do it twice as fast, lapping the competition.”
But it’s also important to note that community broadband isn’t some either/or option. Many areas are creating a healthy symbiosis between municipalities, cooperatives, community broadband networks, public/private partnerships, and private companies. COVID just got done educating us as to the essential nature of broadband connectivity. Efforts to hamstring or ban productive regional solutions continue to be ignorant and counterproductive.