from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept
A new community broadband network went live in Fort Collins, Colorado recently offering locals there gigabit fiber speeds for $60 a month with no caps, restrictions, or hidden fees. The network launch comes years after telecom giants like Comcast worked tirelessly to crush the effort. Voters approved the effort as part of a November 2017 ballot initiative, despite the telecom industry spending nearly $1 million on misleading ads to try and derail the effort. A study (pdf) by the Institute for Local Reliance estimated that actual competition in the town was likely to cost Comcast between $5.4 million and $22.8 million each year.
Unlike private operations, the Fort Collins Connexion network pledges to adhere to net neutrality. The folks behind the network told Ars Technica the goal is to offer faster broadband to the lion’s share of the city within the next few years:
“The initial number of homes we’re targeting this week is 20-30. We will notify new homes weekly, slowly ramping up in volume,” Connexion spokesperson Erin Shanley told Ars. While Connexion’s fiber lines currently pass just a small percentage of the city’s homes and businesses, Shanley said the city’s plan is to build out to the city limits within two or three years.
“Ideally we will capture more than 50% of the market share, similar to Longmont,” another Colorado city that built its own network, Shanley said. Beta testers at seven homes are already using the Fort Collins service, and the plan is to start notifying potential customers about service availability today.
The telecom sector simply loves trying to insist that community-run broadband is an inevitable taxpayer boondoggle. But such efforts are just like any other proposal and depend greatly on the quality of the business plan. And the industry likes to ignore the fact that such efforts would not be happening in the first place if American consumers weren’t outraged by the high prices, slow speeds, and terrible customer service the industry is known for. All symptoms of the limited competition industry apologists are usually very quick to pretend aren’t real problems (because when quarterly returns are all that matter to you, they aren’t).
For years we’ve noted how large ISPs like Comcast quite literally write and buy protectionist state laws preventing towns and cities from building their own broadband networks (or striking public/private partnerships). These ISPs don’t want to spend money to improve or expand service into lower ROI areas, but they don’t want towns and cities to either — since many of these networks operate on an open access model encouraging a little something known as competition. As such it’s much cheaper to buy a state law and a lawmaker who’ll support it — than to actually try and give a damn.
And while roughly nineteen states have passed such laws, Colorado’s SB 152, co-crafted by Comcast and Centurylink in 2005, was notably unique in that it let local towns and cities hold local referendums on whether they’d like to ignore it. And over the last few years, an overwhelming number of Colorado towns and cities have voted to do so, preferring to decide local infrastructure issues for themselves instead of having lobbyists for Comcast dictate what they can or can’t do in their own communities, with their own tax dollars.
There’s probably not a day that goes by without these companies regretting letting that caveat make it into the final bill.