More than 20 states have telecom-sponsored laws on the books that prohibit local communities from building their own municipal high-speed internet networks. This despite the fact that these networks are wildly popular in communities that have them. In addition, communities that have installed their own high-speed internet networks have seen better than average population growth and a marked increase in the number of businesses relocating to and forming in their city.
Take the example of Chattanooga, Tennessee, which built their own gigabit internet service last year (and had 100 Mb/s service before that). Of course this service is popular — it provides internet more than 300 times faster, and cheaper, than AT&T’s antiquated DSL service, which is the only option for the areas surrounding Chattanooga. Well actually, most of the areas around Chattanooga don’t have any high-speed internet service at all, because AT&T (and Comcast, Verizon, Time-Warner, and other providers) aren’t interested. In fact, hundreds of cities in the US are already wired with high-speed fiber, but lobbying and non-compete agreements from telecom companies keeps it unused.
Chattanooga wants to provide high-speed internet to these surrounding areas, but state law prohibits them from doing that. A state law that was pushed through by the same telecoms who aren’t interested in providing service out there. Ironically, Chattanooga already provides phone service to those areas, but they are prohibited from providing internet service to the same areas.
Way back when, before our politicians were completely owned by huge monopolistic industries, we figured out that everyone deserved at least the right to buy phone service (and at reasonable prices no less!). But we haven’t yet figured out the same thing about internet service.
This is a huge problem. As Chattanooga’s internet provider puts it:
We believe that Internet access is the critical infrastructure for the 21st century. True broadband infrastructure provides access to information, jobs, and education and gives citizens and businesses the opportunity to fully participate in – and to lead – our emerging knowledge economy. Communities should have the right, at the local level, to determine their broadband futures.
Indeed, recognizing the importance of broadband Internet to the future of our country, Congress has specifically required the FCC to identify and remove barriers to the expansion of access to broadband Internet. And they are doing just that.
Or they were, until the GOP stepped in. Last week, House Republicans passed an amendment to a key appropriations bill that prohibits the FCC from helping communities establish their own municipal internet systems. Republicans claim they don’t want government (even local government) competing against industry, but most of these municipal networks are being built in areas where there is no high-speed internet access at all (and the rest of them in areas where the service is slow, unreliable, and expensive).
Is it any coincidence that the bill was introduced by Marsha Blackburn, a Republican Congresswoman from Tennessee? Blackburn opposes net neutrality, which she calls “socialistic”, is a strong critic of the FCC, and her top campaign donors include the telecoms that provide internet services.
So I guess in the world of Republican doublespeak, when they say they are in favor of “competition”, what they are really saying is that they are in favor of monopolies that give them campaign contributions.
Oh, and meanwhile telecoms like Verizon are deliberately clogging their broadband networks, slowing down content to their customers, so that they can charge more money. And then lying about it. Netflix even offered to pay the cost of new routers for Verizon (which would fix the problem) but Verizon refused. There is a word for that, and that word is “extortion”.