Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Local control for internet access

The city I live in is probably months away from inking a deal that would connect every house and business to a line that will give them access to gigabit internet speed. Several cities along the Wasatch Front have seen their city councils vote in favor of the same deal. I expect that by the end of the year, the deals will be signed and work will begin to complete the unfinished UTOPIA networks.

There is a huge swarm of politics surrounding this issue, with incumbents putting millions into their fight against community broadband. The newcomer, Macquarie, doesn't seem to realize how big this fight is, and hopefully, they will.

But throughout the debate, I see one central theme: the idea that business will do the job better than government. The argument against community broadband is that private enterprise will always outperform public services. That only holds true if there is real competition for customers. In the realm of internet access, there is very little competition. We know this because in more than 400 cities and towns across the country, community owned broadband has not only proved superior to private offerings, they have clobbered the incumbents for speed and price.

To head off this challenge, the incumbents like Comcast, Verizon, Time-Warner, AT&T and Centurylink, have put money into campaigns to prevent adoption of community broadband at the state level. 20 states have passed laws that hobble or prevent the adoption of community broadband. I find this ironic because in many of those states, local control is a hot-button issue. Many of these same states profess a desire for independence from the federal government, but the laws impose top-down control on cities and towns that want to make their own choices when it comes to internet access.

Even the chairman of the FCC has noticed this irony and power struggle. There is now the Coalition for Local Internet Choice (CLIC), another organization working to rally resources around helping cities and towns overcome the obstructionism of the incumbent carriers. Take a look at their board of advisers and you will find among them, Vint Cerf, one of the fathers of the internet as we now know it.

If incumbent carriers really don't want consumers to have a say in their choices for internet access, they most certainly aren't capitalists. A capitalist will always want a choice of suppliers, but in this case, the incumbent carriers don't want customers to have a choice. What does that say about a company like Comcast or Centurylink?
Post a Comment