Only 14% Of Americans Think Communities Shouldn't Be Allowed To Build Their Own Broadband Networks

from the listen-to-the-people dept

A new poll from Morning Consult indicates that only around 14% of Americans think that communities should not be allowed to build and operate their own, local broadband networks:

That of course operates in pretty stark contrast to the 18 states that have passed obnoxious laws, usually written by incumbent broadband providers, that hamstring such efforts or ban them entirely. That total used to be 19 (Arkansas eliminated many of their restrictions earlier this year), and will soon be 17 (given Washington State just passed a law eliminating its restrictions as well).

The survey found that Democrats and urban residents are more likely that rural and Republican residents to support such options. But that too runs a bit in contrast with reality, given that the majority of community built broadband networks exist in more conservative leaning cities. Like a lot of tech subjects (net neutrality comes to mind), entrenched business interests have successfully framed community broadband as a "partisan issue," which is a great way to stall consensus on a subject you oppose for purely selfish, successful reasons.

Industries, and the captured regulators and lawmakers who love them, adore demonizing such efforts as "socialism run amok" or automatic taxpayer boondoggles. But that's again not based on reason. Such efforts are an organic, grass roots reaction to market failure and monopolization. The efforts aren't pursued because their fun, they're pursued because Americans have, over thirty years, grown increasingly frustrated at the high cost, slow speeds, and terrible customer service that's the direct result of regional monopolization.

Christopher Mitchell, one of the country's top experts on the subject, tells me that COVID has really highlighted how stupid and unnecessarily punitive such restrictions are. But overall, it has proven harder and harder for regional monopolies to buy laws restricting community broadband:

"No new state has added a barrier in 10 years,” said Christopher Mitchell, director of the Community Broadband Networks Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. “The more recent dynamic has been states removing them."

Interestingly, the survey did show that many Americans trust the private sector more than they do their local government when it comes to actually running the networks. Roughly 54% of respondents said they had either "a lot" or "some" trust in local governments to provide the best at-home internet service, while 75% said the same about private internet providers. Cable lobbyists were quick to then claim this is because US telecom providers are akin to "LeBron James":

"James Assey, executive vice president at cable lobby NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, said adults are aware of the potential failures of public infrastructure, such as electric grids or bridges. "In the same way if I was playing basketball, I’d want LeBron James on my team — I would want the people who do this day-in and day-out to help us bridge the divide that we know exists today,” Assey said."

I imagine if you really sat Americans down and asked them if they view Comcast and AT&T as the tech equivalent of LeBron James you'd probably see some... pointed responses to that comparison. Again, community broadband is a direct, organic response to failures by the private sector, which routinely hoovers up millions in taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors in exchange for networks only half completed. Such networks aren't a silver bullet, and of course depend on the competency of your local government and the quality of the business plan.

And while the Biden broadband plan leans heavily on community broadband, it's not really an either or scenario. In the absence of functional regulatory oversight or competition, community broadband often acts as a way to pressure industry into trying harder, lowering prices, and upgrading their networks. If industry wants to avoid the "vile socialism" that is communities offering better, faster, cheaper fiber broadband, there's an easy option that doesn't involve buying shitty state laws that undermine the will of voters: do better.

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Filed Under: broadband, community broadband, competition, municipal broadband

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  1. icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 1:56pm

    "help us bridge the divide that we know exists today"

    He left off the part where they created & exploited that divide, then made damn sure no one else could come in and force them to upgrade their things.

    If they want compare it to the failing roads & bridges... perhaps they should show us what they paid the states in taxes...

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