House Conservatives say “no”, that people at the state and local level should not be allowed the right to decide for themselves how to improve their internet access. Why? Because free market, competition, taxes, reasons.
In a frustrating example of political double-speak, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced an amendment to the 2015 Financial Services Appropriations Bill which would “prevent the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) from trampling on the rights of states when it comes to municipal broadband“. How does it protect states rights? By making it illegal for states and municipalities to petition the FCC for permission to build tax payer funded data networks. This amendment was of course approved by a vote of 223-200.
The United States lags behind a good chunk of the world in terms of broadband speed and adoption, often we battle it out with Estonia (I’m not joking) for 30th place depending on where you go for speed rankings.
The free market is largely to blame for keeping our network averages low, as this country is so vast, it’s difficult and expensive to wire every citizen up. Major telecoms have little financial incentive to invest a lot of money in improving connectivity for rural residents. The people most hurt by this amendment are those with almost zero competition or recourse for improving their data, business, and educational resources.
Ironically Tennessee, where Rep. Blackburn comes from, is also home to a small city finding great success in providing high speed fiber internet for its community. Chattanooga started rolling out Fiber to its residents five years ago, starting with 100Mbps plans in 2010, and it beat Google Fiber to gigabit speeds. The roll out was paid for by taxes and a $100 million grant from the Department of Energy, as the infrastructure in high speed data will also aid the creation of a smarter energy grid.
Signing up for a 1000Mbps data plan in Chattanooga costs around $70 a month. A comparable plan here in Los Angeles will be around one TWENTIETH the download speed and one TWO HUNDREDTH the upload speed for the same price (TWC – 50Mbps down/5Mbps up).
Are you seeing advertisements for 100Mbps cable? For less money per month, the residents of Chattanooga get internet speeds ten times faster. Following the city’s success in deploying the popular service, you can imagine how the rest of Tennessee reacted. Roll it out statewide? Nope. Tennessee lawmakers wrote legislation preventing any further expansion. Because free market, competition, taxes, reasons.
There are dozens of cities around the country which are wired for Fiber, but legislation in twenty states mandates that fiber remains dark, unused. Companies like Verizon and Comcast have largely gotten every preferential treatment and consideration they’ve asked for in rolling out internet services, and now competition is at an all time low. We’ve seen that the only market force capable of motivating improvement in pricing or service is competition. Communities building out their own Fiber or turning to Google, suddenly see cable and DSL providers interested in lower prices and improving service.
Outside of those few Fiber hotspots, the rest of the country languishes under the weight of Conservative policies which seek to “protect” states rights by abolishing states rights…