Thursday, July 09, 2015

The city that legacy incumbent ISPs don't want you to see

Community Broadband Networks brings us yet another success story from Sandy, Oregon (not to be confused with Sandy, Utah). Sandy's municipally owned broadband network now delivers a gig for $60 a month (that's 1 gigabit per second of up and down speed - 100x the typical 10mb/s most Americans are lucky enough to get). The town of Sandy has about 10,000 residents and 60% of the town is either connected or on a waiting list to get connected.

Like so many other towns that wanted better speed, reliability and price, Sandy was met with indifference from the legacy incumbent ISPs like ATT, Verizon, Comcast, Time-Warner and Centurylink. The only way they were going to get better service was by rolling their own network. Fortunately for the residents of Sandy, their legislature is not completely owned by legacy incumbent ISPs.

Here in Utah, the legislature passed a bill into law that prohibits cities from owning their own broadband network unless and until they pass a stringent and expensive set of tests. That bill was passed first in 2001, making Utah the first to do so. The Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act is model legislation written by the members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and was eventually passed in more than 20 states since 2001.

The goal of ALEC in Utah was to head off projects like Utopia, a consortium of 13 cities that could not get better speeds, service or price for internet access from Comcast or Centurylink. So they worked together to do it. But before they could get the project off the ground, ALEC was there with the legacy incumbent ISPs to do whatever it takes to prevent residents of Utah from getting better internet access.

Some might say that Sandy, Oregon has an advantage, it's a small town, so the costs of building the network are small. Then have a look at Chattanooga, Tennessee with a population of 173,000. They're a much bigger city and they have a very popular and successful municipally owned broadband service working for them right now. Residents in Chattanooga can get a gig for $70 a month. Who is offering that service? The Electric Power Board, a cooperative better known as EPB. The legacy incumbent ISPs and ALEC tried to stop them too, but it was too late.

Millions of people across the United States are being denied better service for internet access not because they don't want it. They don't get the service they want because public policy is not written by the people. It's written by the big money monopolies, including our legacy incumbent ISPs. I say "legacy incumbent ISPs" for a few very important reasons. First is that they're still running copper for the last mile. Second is that some like ATT and Verizon are abandoning their copper infrastructure so that they can escape the burdens of common carrier regulation and the costs of keeping all that copper running. Third is that they make promises they won't keep just to keep the monopoly business going. And lastly, they're utterly dependent upon a monopoly business model that is stamped with government approval - that's the local franchise deals between the ISP and the cities they service.

Sandy, Oregon has something we could all have. That fair city has also proven beyond a doubt that municipally owned broadband networks easily outperform the legacy incumbent ISPs on price, performance and service. The only thing stopping us is a legislature that would rather cater to commercial interests than to the people.

If you're looking for changes in your town and want community broadband, look no further than the Community Connectivity Toolkit, created by the good folks at Community Broadband Networks. There you will find many very useful tools and tips to help bring about a community owned internet service that listens to the people of your town rather than a bean counter in New York.

We can have the ISP of our dreams, but we must get involved and let our representatives at every level of government know that we want it.
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