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
    imclean42day (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 1:50pm

    community broadband

    here in Longmont, CO, after jumping through the hoops to approve community broadband and the bonds necessary to build it, there was an 80% pick-up as the fiber came through the neighborhoods. Comcast dropped their prices, even after the 'special' pricing expired and raised their speeds.Century Link finally started to get rid of their ancient DSL and lay some fiber. I am quite content with my 'taxpayer, socialist boondoggle' as my up time is probably 5 nines, i have 1 Gbps symmetric speeds up and down, no deep packet inspection or data 'caps' and no user targeted advertising, all for 49.95 per month inclusive!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. 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...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    TheDumberHalf, 3 May 2021 @ 3:12pm

    Survey not representative

    "Local governments shouldn't be allowed to build their own networks." VS "Local governments shouldn't be allowed to build community networks"

    Personally I would be against the first option, but for the second.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    crinisen (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 3:22pm

    Public-Private Partnerships

    I love how the large Internet providers have shape the discussion. Given how much money has been tossed at them collectively by the public sector to build networks I have a hard time distinguishing between the huge multi-billion partnerships vs the smaller "community" ones. Except that I image that if someone compared how many "boondoggles" happened at a small scale vs say JUST the ones involving Frontier the community ones would come out on top.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. icon
    Samuel Abram (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 3:31pm

    sorry to be "that guy"…

    because their fun

    Hate to be a petty grammarian, but shouldn't "their" be "they're"?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    smbryant (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 5:01pm

    Washington is still "in play"

    Hopefully "will soon be 17". As near as I can tell, Gov Inslee has yet to sign the Bill ("Public Broadband Act, HB 1336"), or to veto the competing watered down piece of crap (SB 5383). I can't find anything indicating which way he'll go...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Whoever, 3 May 2021 @ 5:15pm

    Amazing work by the Republicans

    The Republicans have managed to convince millions of Americans to vote against their own viewpoints.

    I suspect the only viewpoint most Republican voters agree with the party on is the unspoken one: white supremacy.

    It's just like this gif:
    https://imgur.com/gallery/C78RK9P
    except, of course, the man on the left is not white.

    It's just the same as Hitler and most (every) authoritarian leader: find a subset of the population and blame society's ills on that subset.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 3 May 2021 @ 6:48pm

    Re: community broadband

    Century Link finally started to get rid of their ancient DSL and lay some fiber.

    Seems kind of wasteful. I don't know whether Longmont's network is an open-access one, but I wonder whether the old guard would avoid providing service over such networks—running their own instead—just out of principle. Are they trying to improve on the municipal one in any way, e.g. by using a newer fiber technology?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    That One Guy (profile), 3 May 2021 @ 11:46pm

    Socialism: Only a bad thing for those that aren't rich

    Industries, and the captured regulators and lawmakers who love them, adore demonizing such efforts as "socialism run amok" or automatic taxpayer boondoggles.

    Socialism run amok, like, oh I dunno, massive tax breaks and/or taxpayer funded subsidies to private companies who then largely pocket the money and buy off a few politicians to ensure that they aren't punished for refusing to hold up their end of the deal that got them that money?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2021 @ 5:11am

    Community Broadband is a violation of American freedoms.

    Yes this is about freedom! Rich Amercians should retain their traditional freedom to bilk their poorer neighbours! And poorer Americans should not have their right to be bilked infringed! And above all else, Republican politicians should be free to profit from the bribes (I mean, political contributions) that maintain all this freedom.

    Welcome to the Republican party, where Humpty-Dumpty party where words mean precisely what they want them to mean, no more, no less.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Bruce C., 4 May 2021 @ 6:25am

    Comparing ISPs to sports figures...

    Rather than Lebron James, the athlete that comes to mind when I think about Comcast is probably a steroid-user like Jose Canseco -- a great player, but their performance is artificially enhanced by regulatory capture. AT&T? Lenny Dykstra - moderately talented with significant issues.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2021 @ 8:26am

    but 100% of those companies who dont wanna give a service but charge a fortune for it any way and 90% of the politicians all so NO! cant understand why, can you?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. icon
    ECA (profile), 4 May 2021 @ 9:19am

    They only asked?

    Democrats and republicans?
    Very selective. Whats the odds thats the list of politicians they asked?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. icon
    ECA (profile), 4 May 2021 @ 9:24am

    Re: They only asked?

    demonizing such efforts as "socialism run amok" or automatic taxpayer boondoggles.

    I would really like to know how. As most of this goes to the Town/city getting the money rather then the corps. They can add it to Property taxes or add another billing.

    Really sounds like Gov. control is considered communist, when it better known under other names. esp. if you dont get charged IF you dont want it.(ESPN anyone?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Dave, 4 May 2021 @ 11:28am

    Meanwhile, 100 percent of big legacy ISPs oppose community broadband at all cost.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 4 May 2021 @ 12:53pm

    Is that the 14% that work for telecom/cable monopolies and the various groups paid to shill for them?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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