We’ve spent years laying out mountains of documented evidence on how the U.S. broadband is a heavily monopolized mess largely protected and pampered by captured lawmakers and regulators. The impact of this lack of meaningful competition is everywhere, from historically terrible customer satisfaction rates, to high prices, slow speeds, and spotty coverage.
83 percent of US households live under a broadband monopoly. The U.S. is painfully mediocre in nearly every global broadband metric that matters. And when competitors do still somehow manage to survive in this environment, their positive impact is very clear.
Case in point: PC Magazine once again measured all the fastest broadband providers in America and found that smaller ISPs, or community built broadband networks, consistently provided the fastest speeds:
As smaller competitors, these efforts are all far more incentivized to, you know, try. Or in the case of efforts like Fort Collins Connexion or Longmont Nextlight, both community broadband builds in Colorado, they’re actually part of the local communities they serve, and therefore, more directly responsible to those communities and their voters.
Independent California ISP Sonic, one of the very few larger independent ISPs to survive monopoly power and the lobbyist-induced competitive carnage of the early 00s, has the fastest speeds in the country thanks to its 10 Gbps offerings. All of these smaller operations are about improving the communities they operate in, instead of the traditional monopoly model of extraction and turf protection.
Campaign cash slathered lawmakers and policymakers have literally spent decades embracing one core central policy: throwing countless billions in subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors at industry giants like AT&T in exchange for networks they half deploy or don’t deploy at all. AT&T, in turn, has historically cut jobs, skimped on investments, and ripped off the federal government.
Worse, state and federal legislatures have allowed giants like AT&T to repeatedly write and craft legislation aimed at curtailing competition, whether it comes from a small local government frustrated with market failure, or smaller broadband providers trying to make inroads in the market. At the same time, they’ve lobotomized most federal oversight of market competition and consumer welfare.
Even in this environment, scattered competition continues to emerge and demonstrate its value.
Terrible telecommuting and home education experiences levied historic pressure on lawmakers to try to do somewhat better, resulting in equally historic financial investment in new deployments. And California is exploring some very novel efforts such as the creation of a massive new open access middle mile network aimed at boosting competition and driving down costs without rate regulation.
As somebody who has tracked U.S. federal telecom policy for 20+ years, I can say unequivocally that federal telecom policy has failed due to corruption. The evidence is everywhere; most recently and painfully evident by the telecom lobby’s successful bid to block the nomination of FCC Commissioner Gigi Sohn based on a bunch of half-assed, manufactured attacks.
The vast majority of the most interesting efforts in telecom right now are coming at the hands of a bipartisan collection of states, local towns, small competitors, cooperatives, and utilities — all extremely pissed off and finally doing something about it.