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After beating cable lobby, Colorado city moves ahead with muni broadband (arstechnica.com)
511 points by jseliger 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 135 comments



Honestly Municipal Broadband should be built out as an Open Access Network[0].

They're currently facing a lot of lobbying from the existing broadband monopolies because they're building direct competition to them, this is an unnecessary fight. Particularly when their ultimate goal is just to get fast high quality internet.

Build it as an OAN instead and let CenturyLink, Comcast, Charter, etc, lease it. But also let new smaller players lease it too. Instead of fighting the big guys, get them onboard with this plan.

The big guys won't LOVE it because they still lose their monopolistic stranglehold, but at least you aren't using public revenue to push them out of the market. You're using public revenue to create a road that any business can use for an equal fee.

In any regard your local citizens get: Faster internet, more choice of ISPs, and perhaps lower prices due to more competition. Let citizens be the "king maker" by choosing their own ISP.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-access_network


> The big guys won't LOVE it because they still lose their monopolistic stranglehold, but at least you aren't using public revenue to push them out of the market. You're using public revenue to create a road that any business can use for an equal fee.

I really can't imagine the response from larger incumbents being any different if this sort of format were being proposed. Why accept any competition at all when you can have none or almost none?


Why accept any competition at all when you can have none or almost none?

Because that won't last forever. One top-level comment here lays out how much money the incumbents spent to defeat such measures, and they still lose. Incumbents such as Comcast appear to be so hated that the only thing keeping them in place are monopoly deals written years ago. IOW, they are not going to get widespread public support.

Without public support, they rely on cronyism and old regulatory deals. They would do well to at least have a plan for how they would fit in this new world order (and I would be shocked if they didn't), if for no other reason than to not be caught off guard when the tide changes.


They don’t always lose though. And winning a legislative victory banning muni competition seals their revenue stream for years.


The tide won’t change for years or decades.

Relatively few places have the ability to do ballot measures like this, and the feds will make it more and more onerous to comply with various regulations.


> Relatively few places have the ability to do ballot measures like this

By my count, 33 states make it even easier to build municipal broadband than Colorado, including most of the big ones (CA, NY, IL, NJ, PA, TX, MA): https://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/qkvn4x/the-21-law.... Most have no restrictions on such networks at all.


Because that's the same thought process that seems to be prevalent among the very ISPs we're critisizing all the time. Should that kind of thinking really be copied? Why not use the chance and show how it's done properly?


My understanding is that in Utah they did that with Utopia and the lobbyists put some pretty big roadblock in it (and refused to use it). So I don't think it's that simple.

I'm not super knowledgeable in the field, but it's also my understanding that it's much, much harder to do TV + Internet, while just Internet is significantly easier. A lot of the shady deals with municipalities and regulations involve the TV part of things.

I'd personally be happy with just one hassle-free, super fast pipe just for the internet, relying on Netflix, Youtube, Hulu, Amazon, Twitch, Crunchyroll, etc for all of my TV needs (that's what I do right now already). But it seems that the majority is not willing to give up cable TV entirely, and that limits the target audience.


Why not just let citizens use it for a standard fee, just like a regular road? (In the case of roads, the fee is gas taxes, registration fees, and sometimes car property tax in addition to the general fund.)

Why should the businesses get preferable treatment to individuals or citizens?


Because customers need support. They need someone to call when service goes down, they need someone to call when a billing error occurs, they need someone to call when moving properties. I wish Open Access networks applied to more services in the states like telecom, gas/electric, railways etc. Let the government worry about city planning and where to lay pipes, rails or lines, and let the companies do the day to day management of servicing customers.


I don't know much about how ISPs operate, but I do know a bit about gas, electric and water and I can't see how they would work without some sort of central entity managing it. It's hard to see what benefit leasing that infrastructure out would be considering the municipality would still need to load balance, repair, and meter. And frankly, those services don't need that much maintenance on the service end and when they do, private companies do generally supply it. I hope that someday using the internet becomes as easy and natural as using the electrical grid.


Open Loop is pretty common in Europe. I have one electricity line, one gas line, one phone line but I can choose from multiple providers for each service. For gas and electricity whoever I buy from is responsible for putting the correct amount into the network. For the phone line for fiber to the cabinet internet they hook up their network at the exchange and patch my through. In all cases the providers have to pay a fee to the infrastructure owner that's a fixed regulated rate which pays for maintenance on the network.

There is now point running more than 1 fiber optic cable to each house just like there isn't a point running more than one electricity or gas line to each house.


> Because customers need support.

All the more reason not to let Comcast use it.


That was discussed as one model. I suspect the city is not "against" such a model, but doesn't want to tie the success of the rollout to private providers. Fort Collins already got burned by Axia backing out of talks about a contracted model.

Once you assume the city is both building the fiber and providing services over the fiber, I'm not sure if also making it an OAN makes sense anymore?


It would allow the city to earn additional revenue by leasing the lines to other ISPs. There are a lot of situations the city can be in where they would make less money overall by offering the whole service than they would by just charging for the infrastructure. In many cases the customer support and technical support staff would be government employees with the extra costs that involves, a private company can often provide this service more efficiently.


What actual services are really left for them to provide on an OAN though that aren't just as well served being a website?


All the stuff they offer today. Comcast / Xfinity for example could offer the following over an OAN:

  Telephony / VOIP
  Television channels, especially sports
  Free/sponsored content (NBC etc)
  Email
  "security" virus protection etc
  Business services
  Home security systems


But couldn't they could also offer that same stuff over the regular Internet? Why do they need to be your "ISP" to offer that? So that they can sneak extra stuff onto a single confusing bill?


Yes, and they don't, respectively. Comcast could simply choose not to use the public OAN and stay on their private (or "private") lines, for better or for worse.

As for your third question: probably yes, heh.


P.s. I think Ammon, Idaho is the model for this. Here's a recent article describing the setup: https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2016/06/what-...


There's also Utopia in Utah. It's not all sunshine and roses but it's pretty good.

http://www.utopianet.org


Ideally, anything that requires maintenance and upgrades is handled by a private company. In Stockholm, for example, the publicly-owned company only provides dark fiber. All of the active equipment (switches, routers, etc.) is provided by private companies.


customer service. cpe rental/installation.

hypothetically the actual internet bandwidth itself. cities could provide a nice big fiber network, and then let independent companies actually bring in the internet connection(s) that they're going to resell.


customer service. cpe rental/installation.

The downside is that when you call the "ISP" they pass the buck to the wire company, who usually passes it right back and your Internet never gets fixed.

hypothetically the actual internet bandwidth itself.

That's a commodity, so having faux competition to resell commodity transit/peering seems like it would just add overhead. Also, splitting a market between multiple small ISPs potentially reduces their volume discounts.


Why would you let them in? The point is to fight so you won't have to deal with them in any shape or form and any profit that will come of this endeavour will all go to the municipal coffers.


That sounds kind of like how it works in Washington. Public utility districts can "construct, purchase, acquire, develop, finance, lease, license, handle, provide, add to, contract for, interconnect, alter, improve, repair, operate, and maintain any telecommunications facilities within or without the district's limits", but only for their own telecommunications needs or for "the provision of wholesale telecommunications services within the district and by contract with another public utility district".


Fine as long as there is also a Public Option so the privates can't collude and sabotage the thing as they've done in other situations.


Except that nationalization is part of the plan, under the guise of "affordable municipal broadband". A government owned near-monopoly replacing a private one.


When has that ever been the case? The FCC doesn't build anything. If you're worried about the federal government paying private companies to build out such a thing, take a look at the first decade of the current century where taxpayers funded the telecoms to build out broadband infrastructure with pretty much zero regulation around, well, any of it. There was no specification that the network be nationalized or become government property or that some random government agency could coerce the telecoms into controlling information on the internet ...

So what are you talking about?


It's local governments, not the federal government. In theory there is a concern that a municipal ISP could outcompete commercial ISPs due to lower cost of capital and such, but it's not clear if that has ever happened.


Uhh, isn't that a GOOD thing though.

If the other companies can't compete because their prices are too high, well sucks to be them.

The only thing that matters is the consumers.


Artificially suppressed or subsidized prices are not a good thing and in fact are a huge problem in the infrastructure world. It kills infrastructure investment. Our electrical grids, water and sewer systems, transit systems, roads, etc., are all crumbling because short-sighted "pro consumer" types thought the most important thing was to keep prices low for consumers.


We're getting high prices and dogshit slow internet anyways due to laws that keep competition out. Even Google gave up on trying to deal with the telecoms. Your argument would be fine if our high prices actually resulted in innovation but we haven't had that in a decade. For a while my family was paying about fifty bucks a month for three megabits down.


High prices yes, slow internet no.

It's no longer true that the US lags behind on Internet access speeds.

The US is ranked #10 in the world in average Internet access speeds, just barely behind Denmark and Japan. The countries that rank in front of the US are mostly tiny population wise. We're far faster than eg France, or Australia. Competitively, US access speeds have improved substantially in the last ten years.

Here's who ranks in front of the US: South Korea, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Hong Kong, Finland, Switzerland, Singapore, Japan.

Here is who the US ranks in front of: Canada, Australia, France, Germany, Russia, Brazil, China, Mexico, Taiwan, New Zealand, India, Indonesia, Netherlands, Romania, Britain, Czech, Belgium, Ireland, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Poland, Italy, Greece, Israel, Turkey, Saudi Arabia - and all of Africa + all of Latin America.

The US has 2x the average access speeds of Italy, and neary 2x the speeds of France.

Within 24 to 36 months, the US will likely pass Japan on average access speeds.

This is a massive improvement over where the US was ten years ago and it's getting better faster than most countries.

The US ranks #8 on percentage of connections above 15mbps (48%), just behind Sweden and in front of Denmark. The US ranks #10 on percentage above 25mbps, with dramatically faster growth in that segment than anyone else in the top 10. Between Q1 2016 and Q1 2017, the US saw a 65% leap in % of connections over 25mbps; Finland, ranked #9, by comparison saw a 31% improvement.

So not only is the US killing it on access speeds now, particularly for a massive country of 330 million people, it's improving far faster than most other comparable nations.


Sounds like you have a good source of information; any chance you can share pointers? Thanks! Apologies if I missed this in upstream posts.


Akamai's State of the Internet quarterly reports are the only authoritative source I'm familiar with that confidently publishes at a global data scale. They have one of the only true global networks, that reach basically into every market. They're the only global network that I know that publishes routine detailed information like that. It's not perfect, I'm not aware of anything better however. They've been publishing it for a number of years, so there's a decent tracking history of trends over time.

Here's the Q12017 pdf:

https://www.akamai.com/fr/fr/multimedia/documents/state-of-t...


How can the government investing too much money into infrastructure cause a decrease in the total amount of money invested in infrastructure?

It is self contradictory logic.

Price controls, such as what happens in the electricy and water market might cause that. But the government getting into the game, and spending more money on infrastructure wouldn't....


> If you're worried about the federal government paying private companies to build out such a thing, take a look at the first decade of the current century where taxpayers funded the telecoms to build out broadband infrastructure with pretty much zero regulation around, well, any of it.

Except this isn't true. Almost all the existing broadband infrastructure was built with private money, not taxpayer money.


Except it absolutely is true. The incumbent ISPs were granted hundreds of billions of dollars to wire the country with fiber. They took the money, and did jack shit with it.

http://newnetworks.com/ShortSCANDALSummary.htm


The claim is FUD. No governments wrote $200 billion of checks to have broadband built. Look at the methodology used to derive that number: https://www.ntia.doc.gov/legacy/broadbandgrants/comments/61B... (starting on page 222).

$103 billion is "excess profits." I.e. if you pretend that telcos should receive the same profit margins as water companies, during a period of massive growth in demand for their product, then you can count any profits above that level as "taxpayer money paid to the telco." By that logic, taxpayers are giving Apple hundreds of billions of dollars in subsidies.

$78 billion in "excessive depreciation." If you assume that depreciation schedules during the POTS era should be the same as during a period where everyone was replacing their networks to build broadband, then you can count the "excessive depreciation" as "taxpayer money paid to telcos."

If you actually read the origin of the number, nowhere will you find reference to checks written. The gripe is about deregulation in and of itself--the very idea that the government should not be deciding what prices to charge for what services. That kind of thinking is totally outside the mainstream among telecom regulators in the developed world. Every major European country deregulated their telcos in the 1990s and 2000s. The government in Germany or France doesn't sit there and decide how much broadband service should cost, and call everything above that "excess profits."


Ahh, TeleTruth, the New Networks Initiative, Bruce Kushnick and the "Irregulators", author of such things as "Not happy with your wireless service? Blame the FCC"? I'm sure this won't be biased, at all...


Given the choice between a government-owned monopoly and a private monopoly, why would you choose the latter?


That's a bit of a false dilemma though, as you don't need any monopoly. It is the local governments that granted the monopolies in the first place.


Because the latter can and will be displaced by a shift in the marketplace. The former can literally shut down its competitors with state power.


Longmont, CO also has municipal (gigabit) broadband. At the first attempt, telecoms spent $200,000 to stifle the measure. In 2011 it was tried again, and despite $400,000 in spending by telecoms the measure passed. [0]

Now in Fort Collins, the cable lobby outspent the city $900,000 to $15,000 on campaigning and still lost. [TFA]

I wonder if anti-municipal campaign spending by the telecoms will continue to increase, and just how far they will go before cutting their losses and trying to defeat these plans some other way.

[0] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2014/11/19/longmo...


I'm reading this as a side-effect of just how absolutely hated broadband companies like Comcast and Verizon are. They've spent decades ignoring consumers, doing exactly what they don't want, providing shoddy service, providing shoddy support, doing absolutely fuck all other than continuously raking in money.

Now they want us to help them by stomping out government competition? Fat chance. They'll just have to do what they did with net neutrality: spend years and years planting people in agencies and political positions to push their self-interests. I hope they do and I hope it backfires.

I doubt they can blow a million on lobbying in every city that starts talking about municipal broadband, so I'm guessing if this trend continues they're going to switch focus to attempting to outlaw it entirely. Certainly possible, but it seems like a harder target than dismantling net neutrality.


Comcast in particular seems to evoke near-universal feelings of rage, and has done so for decads. I remember a while back, my dad looked into bonded ISDN as an option when we couldn't get DSL just to avoid Comcast (ISDN turned out to be way too expensive, but the moment FIOS was available he switched, after using Comcast for over a decade)

See also Comcast's customer satisfaction scores rise, but are still below the IRS's: http://bgr.com/2017/04/25/comcast-customer-service-scores-20...

Americans in general don't trust the government to provide good services and yet municipal broadband gets strong support from voters almost everywhere. It's really hard to understate how much people don't like Comcast


I feel like Comcast/Verizon/CenturyLink were too short-sighted. If they were only 50% as shitty to their customers as they have been, they could have ridden that gravy train for a long time. But instead they treat it as a contest to see who can twist the knife more, and there's such a backlash that they're going to start completely losing big markets.


Hey, I can't get my 25% executive bonus if I don't somehow squeeze another 2% out of my department's expenses.

This yacht won't pay for itself, you know.


Exactly. That's what I'm getting at. Being public companies means they have to report results quarterly, which gives incentives to juice the numbers with short term gains so long as the costs, like public goodwill and brand reputation, can't be quantified and can't be put on the balance sheet.


Unless you have jeff bezos skills to convince ling term this is better.


... and it is wonderful in Longmont, CO: $50/month for a gigabit Internet.


How is it in terms of availability, responsiveness to issues, and those kinds of things?


In Douglas, CO I get five hundreths of yours for 60 dollars.


One mile outside of Longmont's service area I get 1/10th of the speed for $80.


Imagine if they spent that money on infrastructure upgrades instead of on ads


It's not clear to me from that USA Today article... what the cable lobbies spending that money on? Advertising aimed at residents? What do those ads look like? Or is it just "lobbying" (bribing) the local officials?


In Fort Collins, 2b was a ballot measure. Most of the money went to advertising. I had a hard time finding direct examples online, but this article (http://www.coloradoan.com/story/news/2017/11/01/fact-check-f...) does have a picture of the many mailers received by some voters. (I lived in Longmont when the second vote happened and can confirm many similar mailings as the article)


I live in Fort Collins and can confirm that we were absolutely inundated with mailers, and other forms of ads.


Advertising is definitely a big part of it. A common angle is to release commercials basically saying, "we shouldn't be spending government money on fiber when we could use that money for [insert emotionally-charged need that could be improved in literally every town in existence]"


Eventually those companies will have to start lobbying for those alternative public investments - the emotional argument is far more effective when <emotionally-charged need> is on the same ballot.



Money being spent on advertising is a bit of a dubious figure coming from an advertising company. If Comcast is putting local ads on their cable channels saying "vote no", then quoting the retail price of those ad spots is going to inflate the figure. Sure they may be giving up some potential revenue, but the actual cost to the company is not what is quoted.


I wonder if they get to claim a tax deduction for “donating” air time in this manner ...?


They would be donating it to themselves, so I hope not. One could maybe imagine a situation where they setup a super pac and have that organization spend the money on political advertising, but that seems so easy of a dodge that the IRS must have a way to detect it.


So here in Maryland, the state and county governments are building a fiber network to plug gaps in the state's coverage (most populated areas of the state have competition between fiber and high-speed cable). It's a great idea. That said, requirements like these make me nervous:

> > The city intends to provide gigabit service for $70 a month or less and a cheaper Internet tier. Underground wiring for improved reliability and "universal coverage" are two of the key goals listed in the measure.

> Building a citywide network is a lengthy process—the city says its goal is to be done in "less than five years."

Contrast with how Stockholm built its network: https://www.stokab.se/Documents/Stockholms%20Stokab%20-%20A%.... A company was created by the city to own the dark fiber. The company was not given any build-out directive, and it took 18 years to cover 90% of the city, building out in a demand-driven fashion. The upside is that the approach is sustainable. Stockholm's utility has never received public money, isn't subsidized by a utility monopoly, and operates at a profit. It doesn't depend on changing political moods or public priorities.

Freedom from the municipal government is a big advantage. Look at what's happening right now with DC's and New York's subway systems. Once very good, they've been overcome by public-sector mismanagement, and are facing enormous maintenance and upgrade backlogs. The fact that this is run by the power company isn't all that comforting. Municipal governments have enormous influence over local power companies, and our electrical grid is in pretty poor shape too.


My grandmother's rural Minnesota town laid fiber as part of the process of replacing the roads in the town. This greatly reduced the installation costs since they were able to basically sneak in halfway through the road repair to install the conduits.

It seemed pretty smart and it got her some cheap high speed Internet/TV/Phone through a third party ISP. The only weirdness is that the company doesn't appear to have a website, so she can order gigabit internet but has to call them up on the phone to get it.


In theory the dig once law/s will make a big difference, along the lines of what you're talking about:

https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/03/natio...

https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policy/otps/workplan.cfm


If NYC subway was privately owned by a (natural) monopoly, and profitable because the population critically depends on it and pays their fare, why would a private company upgrade it?

CA electricity was privatized, and we got Enron.


Electricity was deregulated almost everywhere around the same time (not just in the U.S. but in Europe too), and situations like Enron were the exception. By contrast, decaying public infrastructure is the rule. The NYC subway (and Amtrak and Metro North) runs slower in many cases today than a century ago, because of deteriorating track, bridges, etc. See: http://www.slate.com/articles/life/transport/2009/05/stop_th.... There is a multi-hundred billion backlog in maintenance and upgrades of water and sewer pipes. Roads and bridges are crumbling.

When the public owns the infrastructure, there is enormous political pressure to price service too cheaply, which can work in the short term but has led to the infrastructure disaster we're seeing in the U.S. now: https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org.


Plus it's much easier politicaly to get new infrastructure build than use those funds to maintain what you already have. Their are hardly any federal grants for mantaince but you want to build a 4 lane boulevard that's not going to be used much for the next 10 years here's 30 million.


> CA electricity was privatized, and we got Enron.

Texas electricity was privatized, and they got inexpensive, dependable electricity. It also hasn't held back renewable energy construction, Texas has chosen to utilize its immense wind potential for example.

California by comparison has electricity rates nearly twice that of Texas. For 2015, the Texas number was 8.64 cents per kilowatt hour (ranked 10th least expensive), while California was at 15.5 cents (ranked 9th most expensive).


Note, TX electricity is "deregulated" and the deregulation attempt learned a lot from the follies of CA's approach. They took the single company (TXU, so not really privatized per se) and broke it into the actual ones managing the infrastructure (e.g. Oncor) and limited TXUs ability to change pricing during an incubation period while other private companies sprang up.

So now TX electrical companies are just a bunch of middle men. They only compete on price and customer service, and price IIUC is basically a margin game of futures and size, not actual electricity innovation. By law, only one company can setup the lines, fix the lines, etc. Not sure how privatized that is if it's the state by another name.

I'd say the privatization or lack of between TX and CA has little to do with costs or quality. In this case, CA just had a bad company and TX a better one (or ones).


> The company was not given any build-out directive, and it took 18 years to cover 90% of the city, building out in a demand-driven fashion.

A local telco here was wanting to take this approach to provide fiber internet, proposed when the city was wanting to start a municipal broadband project. Their plan was to build out high demand areas first, then expand from there to lower income/more sparse areas. They were raked over the coals as "picking and choosing" who would get internet service.


Isn't the Stockholm fiber company you mentioned an inherent monopoly, then? Assuming that they're the ISP as well? Or can independent ISPs run their service on the fiber owned by this company?


I'm pretty sure the fiber company only owns the fiber and takes a fee from ISPs for using it, they are not an ISP themselves. This means most customers can choose between a lot of different ISPs. At least it is that way in a lot of other places in Sweden.


From the second paragraph of the linked PDF:

> Stokab was seen as a public infrastructure company by the City Council, much like a public organisation responsible for roads. As a consequence, Stokab was not allowed to sell active services, and was required to sell to any potential purchaser on a non-discriminatory basis


The important question: How much money was it worth to Comcast?

They have a population of ~136k, comprising 60,503 households. If each currently pays $100/mo for a cable bundle and all abandon them for fiber (a gross over-estimate), that is $72.6 million per year of lost revenue to Comcast.

It is, however, $72.6 million of returned value, or something more than about 10% of the $620M/year total city budget. If my town voted to net-reduce its total burden to me by 10% or so, that would be very appealing. If they only returned half of that, it would still be substantial.

If they dispensed with the "evil" of the regular garbage "fees" and price hikes that modern cable monopolies love, it would be worth 100% of the price.


Each subscriber is worth $1000-$1500 by traditional accounting methods. The number of active accounts could be substantially less than 60k though. Alameda CA is a similar sized city and they had ~15k subscribers when they sold the municipal cable and internet to Comcast for $17 million.


This is a very interesting way to look at it. The question is how to make “average Joe” understand that logic.


These municipalities are the unsung heroes fighting the good fight. True Champions. I hope it is the catalytic butterfly that ends the telecoms' monopoly and abuse.


I'm really glad to see a public option. I still want companies to have the option to compete, but a public option, IMO, is the best bet against the monopolies.


It makes sense for the city to provide fibre and let co-ops, non-profits, and corporations compete for subscribers.

The city shouldn't have to manage the Netflix appliance, for instance.


Good luck, Fort Collins.

I'm from Burlington, Vermont. We had municipal fiber. Great speed and prices and amazing customer service.

Unfortunately, due to mismanagement and some shady borrowing from the city, the utility was sold last month as mandated in the settlement of a suit by Citibank, marking the end of our experiment with municipal broadband.

Fort Collins is 4x the size of Burlington. Hopefully the larger customer base means they'll be able to avoid some of the financial struggles that we faced.


"Unfortunately, due to mismanagement and some shady borrowing from the city"

That alone spelled its doom, not the premise of it being established as a public internet utility.

With financial institutions having a stranglehold on the government, they could effectively choose (negotiate?) which sort of payment would be beneficial to them long term. A public internet utility sold to them makes the most sense as this means an actual steady flow of income and customer base.


Citi doesn't sound like the bad guy in this case.. BT borrowed from Citi for the buildout. Citi was told 40% of payments to BT were not from tax receipts, and were available to service the loan. Then when it became clear the buildout wasn't going well, the mayor decided to allocate $0 in the city budget to service the loan, and declared that all payments, no matter the source, were tax receipts(ie: payments from BTs customers were tax receipts now).. and therefore Citi would receive nothing because in their interpretation of the loan agreement, only non-tax revenues would be available for loan payments.

Where in that is Citibank doing the wrong thing? Is Citibank wrong because they wanted to receive more than $0 from BT?

And casting this as Citibank's fault directly conflicts with the fraud investigation, illegal borrowing from city bank accounts, etc. There was clear mismanagement by BT, bad forecasts for subscriber numbers, and no more funds available because this occurred during the financial crisis in 2008 (prompting the illegal borrowing from the city).


That sounds pretty damning. Do you have any sources to share?


that's just part of it.. the link I posted above was the best/most thorough source I could find: https://muninetworks.org/sites/www.muninetworks.org/files/bt...

But there are plenty of news articles out there too if you search.


I grew up in Fort Collins, and live here now after an itinerant period, and I'll say that overall the city government has always been far-sighted, a good steward of the tax money they get, and provided good public services.

I'm pretty confident that they'll do this well.


This report on Burlington Telecom is interesting:

https://muninetworks.org/sites/www.muninetworks.org/files/bt...


There is a meeting about this in Boulder next week as well:

https://www-static.bouldercolorado.gov/docs/Study_Session_Bo...


It's also in the works in Estes Park. It appears that the whole Front Range is interested in at least having these discussions.


Colorado blazing the trail again for the entire country? I like it.


I hope I'm being overly-suspicious, but I always wonder: Who are they going to buy transit from? An ISP they just denied a profitable monopoly? It would be the simplest thing in the world, it seems to me, for the ISPs in the region to refuse to sell bandwidth to the city that just beat them.


Transit providers are usually _much_ more competitive than last mile.


Tier II last miles like Comcast weren't going to give them transit anyway.


I'm not too savvy on this stuff, so correct me if I'm wrong, but couldn't they build out to the nearest internet exchange point? I thought those were typically open for anybody to hook up to.


I have read here that the commercial market has competition [0].

[0]: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=15926613


I hope the telecom industry comes to regret their lobbying and bad business practices.


But what can people do in non-compete areas? Places where legislation already exists preventing municipalities from doing just what Ft. Collins has done?


Legislation can change. This is the kind of thing you want to gather grass roots level support for.


In 2015 Fort Collins voted to overturn the legislation preventing competition. In 2017 another 17 municipalities in Colorado did as well.


That’s a weird way to phrase it. Colorado voters didn’t vote to “overturn the legislation.” The law itself provides for referendums where voters can approve municipal broadband.


Run for office in the municipality and overturn the legislation (or support candidates that support overturning the legislation).


It's surprisingly feasible (in some areas) to start an ISP on your own using wireless equipment. I've been working with companies doing that for about 15 years and recently started writing http://startyourownisp.com to help people interested in getting started.


Move out of Tennessee, Virginia, etc? The municipal broadband bans are mostly in southern states you might want to leave for other reasons. (If you live in Virginia--Maryland is just across the border, and we're better in every conceivable way.)


As much as I dislike Northern Virginia, I'll have to disagree with you about Maryland. Chattanooga has municipal broadband, and they even provide service to places within Georgia:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/EPB


That only covers a small portion of the state. 28% of Tennessee has access to fiber, versus 61% of Maryland.


DIY. Build your own network. Why does the municipality have to get involved (beyond permitting and approvals...)?


As a small gesture, you can walk over to your neighbor's place, knock on the door, and offer to split the internet bill in exchange for the Wifi password. Sure, the service will still suck, but it already did, and this way you will pay half as much for it.


Not a bad idea... Could just get a directional antenna for a separate router to isolate their network(s).


Sue the state?


Eliminating legislation against municipal broadband is certainly a good thing. But I'm curious why some enterprising residents haven't created a company to do what a Public Open Access Network would do: build out the infrastructure, and lease it to anyone wanting to provide internet service to the covered area.

There's nothing requiring only the municipalities themselves to do that, right?


One problem is getting right of way to run cable on poles and underground conduits


Monopolized ISP services are ripe for local disruption.

Is the future of Internet Service Providing going to be a service of local governments?

What about co-ops?


There's also the possibility of global disruption of these local monopolies from massive LEO megaconstellations of small telecommunications satellites.

Three big ones: SpaceX's Starlink constellation is up to ~12,000 satellites around half a ton (maybe more in the future).

OneWeb's constellation of a few hundred to a few thousand smaller satellites. (these use a "bent-pipe" architecture, meaning no satellite-to-satellite communications, depending on ground stations near the point of use).

Telestar's LEO constellation is a few hundred small (~100kg?) satellites as well, using inter-satellite links (and therefore not so dependent on ground stations): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H03lpd-zVCs

None has gotten prototypes launched, yet. Telestar lost some of their prototypes in a R7/Soyuz launch failure late last year; I don't know when the next launch is set. SpaceX is supposed to launch in a month or two, with Oneweb launching prototypes in about 2 months after that.

I think there are other such LEO megaconstellations planned. (They offer huge advantages over current GSO satellites in that they're far lower latency; In SpaceX's case, the worst-case latency may actually be significantly better than fiber's worst-case latency.)


From what I have read, internet coops are fairly popular in rural areas. Searching for "rural internet coop" gets lots of hits, including this:

http://www.yesmagazine.org/people-power/how-internet-co-ops-...


I don't think rural coops get much push-back from deep pocketed monopolies who just passed over serving those areas.


If local governments are the future of ISP services, I'm not sure we'll have made much progress at all on the anti-monopoly front.


> If local governments are the future of ISP services, I'm not sure we'll have made much progress at all on the anti-monopoly front.

It seems to me that this is real progress; or do you mean "this just replaces the private monopoly with a government monopoly"? Even just moving a monopoly from private to public hands seems to me like progress. Comcast, for example, doesn't need, or particularly care about, my vote, whereas local government does.


I think you're right, by moving the monopoly over to the local government, my vote now influences how the service works in a way that I can't control with Comcast.

Living in Fort Collins and trying to help this get passed and put in to action has been great to see, but watching Comcast fight back has been quite disheartening considering the quality of service they provide. I am more than ready to give the City my money every month instead of the money hungry POS that is Comcast.


That's funny, I live in Fort Collins too, and they already take a large chunk of my money and despite my votes and my dissatisfaction with how they spend it now, they seem to be changing about as fast as Comcast's customer service is known to be.


> Comcast, for example, doesn't need, or particularly care about, my vote, whereas local government does.

Not always your individual vote. A vote with your ballot often has little difference with a vote with your wallet when you can't easily/quickly switch.


Depends on where you live, I guess. In the D.C. area, I'd rather have Comcast running my subway than WMATA running my internet.


Comcast has done more when I've threatened to cancel than any politician has ever done when I've threatened not to vote for them, I'll tell you that. The difference is if I stopped paying for Comcast I would be without Internet. If I stopped paying for my local government I'd go to jail.


Better the devil you know, eh?


Municipal broadband only goes so far in terms of protecting citizens from throttling, am i right? If you need to access a website hosted on a server outside your municipal broadband network, will those packets be throttled as they pass through various datacenters controlled by monopoly ISPs?


This is a really good point. There isn’t really a “free” backbone that connnects all these separate networks. There are private backbones who could filter at their interfaces if they chose to.


There is more competition between transit providers so this is not an issue. If Level 3 starts throttling certain services, you can switch to Cogent or Hurricane Electric. It is only a problem for consumers because of the high cost of last mile access.


You guys are role models for the rest of the country and the world. Keep going. All the best.


I really hope Boulder gets this soon... I am jealous of Longmont!


internet should use the water model. You can get a decent internet speed provided by the state just like tap water and if you need a faster internet, you can pay as you go just like you'd buy bottled water. What's your opinion?


Not sure how water is set up, but I think municipalities should own the network infrastructure and rent/lease it out to private companies.

This keeps the city from having to run a business, instead they just maintain the infrastructure (like pipes/roads) and let the private companies duke it out themselves.

This is always how I had it in my head, but apparently there's a name for it (Open access network): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open-access_network


This is a bad bad idea. We have plenty of Latin American examples showing how this ends. A very inefficient company with many employees, a powerful trade union and many customers without service. I know, it feels good to have these services as public, but at the end of the day it is not a better service, and it gets more expensive with time. Good luck though.


"...but at the end of the day it is not a better service, and it gets more expensive with time."

So...just like the monopoly incumbents?




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