Set the Cities Free to Provide Broadband Internet!

internet-openNew Orleans     The FCC, thankfully, is moving forward on a new rule that many believe will preempt the fact that a patchwork quilt of legislation has emerged in twenty different states to block the efforts of cities to create their own broadband networks.  We’ll watch closely how this developed.  Susan Crawford, the Harvard professor, who I have often cited as an expert on internet access and the monopoly efforts of the big companies, has long argued that municipal systems may be the only way to really provide equitable and affordable, high quality internet, so this could be a breakthrough.

The map of the 20 states that currently effectively ban it, and the creative ways they do so, is an interesting look at the geography of monopoly power as it is exercised by Comcast, AT&T, Times-Warner, and their junior partners.   Thanks to the work of Ars Technica we have a list, and here’s a quick summary of the twists and turns they have put in the way of cities wanting to break their stranglehold.

 

  •          Arkansas allows only cities which own their own municipal utilities.
  •          California blocks the financial tools to finance construction
  •          Colorado requires a referendum by the voters.
  •          Florida requires a special tax.
  •          Louisiana requires a local referendum.
  •          Michigan cities can do so only if they bid out the service and receive fewer than three bids.
  •          Minnesota requires approval by 65% of local voters.
  •          Nebraska says you can do it but you can’t sell at retail and compete.
  •          North Carolina blocks municipal financing.
  •          Pennsylvania, the home of Comcast, bans cities “if a local telephone company” already provides broadband even if it charges outrageous prices and offers poor quality service.
  •          Tennessee allows cities to build broadband only in “historically unserved areas” and if it is done in joint ventures with a private company.
  •          Utah’s law builds in procedural and accounting requirements that make it impossible.
  •          Virginia says you can build it but you can’t charge lower than private sector providers.
  •          Washington says public utilities can’t offer direct service to customers
  •          Wisconsin requires a public hearing, blocks subsidies, and prescribes minimum prices

And then let’s don’t forget Alabama, Missouri, South Carolina, and Texas that essentially have just outlawed the ability of cities to do so without any bells and whistles or pretense that there’s an eye of the needle that the poor Joe might crawl through to get to internet heaven.  To me this all reads like a snapshot of democracy perverted by money, the lobbyists who push it, and the monopoly companies that dole it out for their sole self-interest.  This is a Hall of Shame list, where only money talks and low and moderate income people are forced on the other side of the equity and internet divide in service to profits and the politicians who hide behind the complexities with their hands out to the companies and their backs to the people.

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