from the do-it-yourself dept
We’ve noted for a long time how data makes it clear that, contrary to claims by telecom monopolies, community broadband networks are hugely beneficial. They generally offer faster speeds at lower prices with better customer service than regional monopolies, and they also tend to push said monopolies to try a little harder to compete on price, and expand and improve service.
While federal lawmakers under the sway of the telecom lobby often refuse to grasp this reality, many states are taking things into their own hands (a recurring theme in competent telecom policy). For example New York State just passed a new budget that specifically paves the way for greater participation in the broadband ecosystem by community broadband networks.
The recently passed $220 billion New York State budget bill includes $1 billion for the state’s ConnectALL initiative. That initiative in turn establishes a “municipal assistance program” that will help drive funding to municipalities, state and local authorities that are planning local broadband networks:
Municipal grant recipients, the bill says, will be required to build broadband infrastructure to “facilitate projects that, at a minimum, provide reliable Internet service with consistent speeds of at least 100 Megabits per second (Mbps) for download and at least 20 (Mbps) for upload.” That shouldn’t be a problem as most municipal broadband projects use fiber optics that can deliver far more than that.
It’s a little thing, but just getting state and federal leaders to acknowledge that community broadband is an essential part of improving U.S. broadband has been a steep uphill climb. Some states have been actively doing the inverse; buckling to pressure from AT&T and Comcast lobbyists to specifically ensure federal broadband grant money can’t go to anything that would vaguely resemble competition.
That risks putting states in conflict with language in the infrastructure bill, meaning they could potentially forfeit billions in once-in-a-lifetime broadband funding, all to please some local monopolies. And while there was initially some concern that New York’s budget included some of that language, the final budget appears to be free of such arbitrary restrictions.
Such networks take a wide variety of forms. Some are cooperatives, some are built on the backs of existing utility fiber, and some are public/private partnerships. The telecom lobby has done a “phenomenal” job in getting the right wing to frame this as “socialism run amok” or a “government takeover of the internet,” despite obvious benefits and the fact they have broad, bipartisan support.
Again, if big ISPs like Comcast and AT&T really wanted to thwart community broadband, they could improve their customer service, boost service quality, and lower their prices (which they do, sometimes). But with many U.S. state and federal lawmakers so easily bought and sold, it’s often way less expensive to lobby them into fighting against their constituents own best self interests.