Saturday, October 24, 2015

Safe seats hinder broadband development on a national scale

Community Broadband News has this very interesting development about a man who worked from home and was planning to move to a new location where he would build his own house. He did the due diligence by checking with both incumbent broadband providers to see if they could provide internet access at his location. Both confirmed that they could.

So the man built his house and moved only to find that both ISPs would charge many thousands of dollars to connect his house to their networks. From the article:
"When Marshall completed construction and contacted Charter, the cable company offered to provide the service only if he paid $117,000 to extend their network to his home. And Frontier? Frontier mislead him too, pricing the job at $42,000 to bring him the 24 Mbps service they’d promised they could provide."
That homeowner could not find the service he needed once he had his home built and had to depend on a much slower service to get his work done. This article is yet another example of how incumbent ISPs can determine whether or not a community can get decent access speeds. The homeowner in the article is not the only one dissatisfied with incumbent ISP service. The entire town is unhappy with their service.

An interesting question that comes to mind is how we got to this point. This is a problem that could easily be fixed by allowing local control of the situation. In this example, the city was so unhappy with service provided by the incumbents that they recently passed a resolution to build a municipal network to provide better service to their residents. They are following the same path blazed by more than 450 cities that have enjoyed higher access speeds and the prosperity that goes along with it.

The cavalier attitude of the incumbent carriers is demonstrative of their sense of confidence. Motherboard has noticed 21 laws in as many states which seek to hinder or prohibit municipal broadband. Apparently the industry got to the Wisconsin legislature in 2003 to prevent the city from asserting local control with this law. The law does allow room to get through, but only with a costly effort.

The influence of incumbent ISPs on statehouse action could be resolved with national policy. But at the national policy, ISP influence is even stronger and provides ample support to swing votes in their favor. This is another way of saying that Congress will not move to allow local control without campaign finance reform.

Local control means, allowing cities and counties to decide for themselves how to provide access to the Internet. It was the cities that decided to set up franchise agreements with the local providers, setting up a de facto monopoly to those same providers. It should be up to the cities if they want to alter or cancel those agreements if service demands are not met, and then build their own networks.

When the ISPs realized that the cities would seek to change the status quo, they went to the legislatures at the state and national level for protection. They backed up that protection at the national level to ensure that they would not be usurped. This nation needs urgent reform of our broadband policy to allow cities to build their own networks without worry of reprisal from the legislatures that represent them.

But we can't have that reform until we get on the same page at the national level. And as many of you may already know, Congress is broken. The only way we're going to fix Congress is by removing all of the safe seats in Congress (about 60% are safe). The only way to make elections competitive again in those safe seats is by removing big money from elections. Then and only then, can we have the national discussion we need to have about competition in the broadband space and make real progress.

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