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Comcast rejected by small town, residents vote for municipal fiber instead (arstechnica.com)
561 points by coatta 37 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 249 comments



I hate Comcast with a passion and have always fantasized about living in a progressive municipality that provides fiber to the home. However, a few years ago I bought a home and it’s only been over the last 6 months or so I’ve realized how horribly corrupt and mismanaged small city governments can be. We’re being sucked dry by our mayor who hired her cousin as city manager for an exorbitant compensation package. They had no problem spending millions on extravgently updating the city offices but have come to residents with their hands out begging for money through special assessments to fix our roads, storm water drains, and water mains that are unusable for firefighting (and the city does not have a tanker truck).

My point is simply that I’m not sure a purely municipal broadband is the panacea we all hope for. In some cases it may be better to stick with the devil you know vs the horribly slow, beaurctatic devil you don’t.

I hope that over time we find a municipal model that works well and serves residents with cutting edge broadband. Until then I’ll continue to attempt to vote these clowns out.


>is the panacea we all hope for

I have never seen "panacea" used by anyone except those opposed to any public infrastructure, and while you sound like you're speaking in all good faith and I appreciate that I still have trouble seeing this as something other then a strawman. Of course governments can have issues too. Public roads can have potholes. Bridges have not been kept up. Public parks aren't always maintained to the extent they're supposed to be. Etc etc. But at the same time there are plenty of good cases to show it can be done very well too, and the massive failures of privatized infrastructure are also in ample evidence. Fundamentally natural monopolies and basic floor level services for society (taking into account not just existing people but future generations and flexibility value to the nation overall) aren't great fits for a market. Some things really do make sense as an area of government.

Corruption is simply something that has to be fought, period, but we do have the tools to do so more easily at the local government level then for more widely distributed private entities. And whatever else the fact is that privatized information infrastructure simply has not worked overall. There will absolutely be cases of mismanagement and corruption in public information infrastructure should it become widespread, there will be fierce fights and politics and so forth same as with roads and everything else. That however doesn't make it worse then the alternatives, and long term in America at least citizens get the government they deserve.


> I have never seen "panacea" used by anyone except those opposed to any public infrastructure

This is a good point; seems like an isolated demand for rigor. The bar we should be aiming to be above is "better than Comcast", which is a quite low standard.

> Corruption is simply something that has to be fought, period, but we do have the tools to do so more easily at the local government level then for more widely distributed private entities.

I like this way of putting it. At the local scope, you aren't fighting well-paid lobbyists; you just have to persuade a majority of people in your area, and that's a much more tractable problem.

The only problem here is that people tend to care less about local politics (turnout is lower, information flow is harder, etc.) which does add challenges.


> This is a good point; seems like an isolated demand for rigor. The bar we should be aiming to be above is "better than Comcast", which is a quite low standard.

Is it really? Compared to what? If the government-run train I use to get to work were as reliable as the Comcast service I've had in the past, I'd be so so happy. I'd cry with happiness.

Where do people live that they think Comcast is as bad as it gets in terms of infrastructure service. I assume these folks don't take BART or Metro to work.


how on earth does it make sense to compare a rail network to an ISP?


When considering handing over a [n effective] monopoly on ISP services to a local government, it's reasonable to look around and see if they're generally managing other things that they do have a monopoly on well or poorly.

While I don't love Comcast, their uptime and consistency for me has been excellent for me over the last decade and their value-for-money acceptable-[0]. I would not have the automatic expectation that municipal broadband would be "better" in any meaningful way, despite the ire that many have for Comcast.

"The bar is better than Comcast" invites comparisons to other local government systems, IMO.

[0] - Though it's a huge waste of time for both sides for me to call up every two years to threaten to cancel and negotiate the re-addition of the (reasonable) promotional rate to my account.


Comparing the price and quality of Comcast internet in the US with service in other developed countries (and some developing countries) clearly shows how poor a job Comcast is doing.

The fact that you find Comcast quality or price reasonable is further evidence that market-based outcomes for internet service in the US are not efficient.


Marked based outcomes are efficient. 90 miles east of here, metro Boston generally has a choice between three modern providers - Comcast, RCN, and Verizon.

The western part of the state seemingly does not have the population density to attract this kind of investment. Comcast here is the monopoly provider of what we consider modern service, and AFAIK engages in their standard monopolistic playbook of throttling, caps, and continual billing shenanigans. Verizon is the ILEC, and could easily upgrade the DSL infrastructure for higher speeds and slowly build out fiber where it makes sense. But they don't because they see no profit in competing!

The worst part is that when Comcast steps up their game to compete with Whip City Fiber, Comcast will then spin those upgrades as an example of how municipal fiber was unnecessary. This has happened pretty much everywhere a city has gotten fed up with an incumbent monopoly and built out municipal infrastructure. And that is my main point - if one is a actual proponent of free markets, then one should support a second player entering the game and creating competition.

In this situation, the main thing municipalities are bringing to the table is the investment capital - investment which the quasi-governmental "private" telecommunications industry has refused to make themselves. Municipal services do not prevent private companies from entering the market - they merely preclude the private companies from receiving the juicy public subsidies that they've become accustomed to for building out their "private" infrastructure.


Markets can work. But often they don’t. I live in the center of Boston and have access to Verizon (not FIOS!) or Comcast. I’ve spent more time on the RCN website than I’d like to admit and they do not cover my building.

If you need more evidence that in this case the market does not lead to desirable outcomes, Verizon charges a monthly 5$ fee to NOT list your phone number (this is for the phone number you are required to sign up for in order to get internet service).


I'm just drawing a distinction because there's this toxic political meme of labeling an area with no competition as "the free market", and smearing collective action attempting to serve themselves as "government meddling", when in reality the latter is just the market mechanism itself! Customer demand gets so pent up that they start demanding a new competitor, and seek investment from the main source available to them. The new municipal entity still has to compete in the market for customers, and so any complaint from the incumbent about the government pushing them out of business is horse shit.

Sorry about your Internet choices - I was speaking based on friends in Arlington and Newton. It sounds like the market has failed you too, and it was not correct to chalk it all up to population density. RCN's upload speed sucks compared to my fiber here, so maybe that's some consolation?

Have you investigated whether any CLECs offer better DSL connections over that Verizon (Nynex, really) copper? IIRC, if you go to Megapath's website and check their business options (which I think involves a follow up phone call), they will send you a spreadsheet of all services available at your premises, which can be informative.


> The new municipal entity still has to compete in the market for customers, and so any complaint from the incumbent about the government pushing them out of business is horse shit.

Do you not see any difference between vigorous competition among profit-seeking companies, where mis-steps can cause loss of profits, loss of jobs, and ultimately bankruptcy and competition between a company with risk on the line versus a municipality that doesn't have to take on any of those same risks?


Yes, I do see a difference between apples and oranges - in areas with "vigorous competition", municipal fiber does not get support!

We're talking about areas where there has been no competition, and the incumbent has already succumbed to the same exact lethargic rent-seeking that people ascribe to municipal services.

Also it appears you seem to be thinking that "municipal fiber" means there are employees at City Hall with a blank check from the general fund. WG&E is a separate corporate body, overseen by the City of Westfield. I would guess they will be doing operations for Charlemont et al, but Charlemont will be free to choose a different operating contractor in the future.

So what we're really talking about is the ownership of the built-out infrastructure, which government has traditionally been paying for anyway - this story is about Charlemont not giving $500k to Comcast! The idea that the government should pay to build out infrastructure to be owned by a private company isn't the "free market" - it's textbook corruption!

For context - I am libertarian, and I recognize that there is no difference between government and a de facto monopoly that one is forced to patronize. In fact, the latter is a great way of describing the former. If you want to make a philosophical argument that government has no business subsidizing communications infrastructure at all, I won't argue. But that is generally not the point of contention around "municipal broadband".


I pay Comcast $78.04/mo (all-in) for “up to 150/10 Mbps”, no data cap, and 100+ channels (inc HBO) of TV. Internet uptime has been 100% since the last major multi-day power outage and speeds measure consistently 100-110/5-6. (Comcast has a monopoly in my town.)

How does that compare to your area? What measure(s) of quality of residential service should I consider?


Compare the price and quality of Comcast internet in the US with internet in Canada.


I'm from the US but live in Canada and the price of everything is higher, to include network and, especially, cell phone costs.

Doesn't mean that Comcast isn't crap though.

https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/why-canadian-cell-phone...

https://www.cbc.ca/news/business/wireless-prices-cell-phone-...


Would you rather compare it with the antiquated sewer systems that dump untreated sewage into local rivers every time it rains? https://wtop.com/dc/2017/07/heavy-rain-raw-sewage-potomac-an...

ISPs are closer to rail than say water. Most municipalities get along fine with water systems built a century ago. But broadband networks require active maintenance and continual upgrades. Rail technology moves incredibly slowly--D.C.'s system featured automated train control when it was built in the 1970s. But the government couldn't even keep that system working so they had to turn it off. I have zero faith these same people could keep up with upgrading switches, routers, etc.


It really doesn't help your argument to compare rail and water with communications infrastructure. They have very little in common.

I struggle to think of anything they do have in common. Capital cost, operating cost, speed of innovation, the average American's interest in the level of service provided, the possibility for competition, the practicality of parallel infrastructures... does rail/water have anything in common with an Internet connection?


Water/sewer hookups (1) have most of the cost recovered at construction time, via a $20-30,000 per-house charge; and (2) once built, don't require upgrades to keep up with advancing technology and higher per-user demand. If municipalities struggle to maintain infrastructure in the face of static or slowly growing demand, why on earth would you expect them to do better when it comes to infrastructure with rapidly advancing technology and exponentially increasing demand? Why would you trust government entities that can't simply keep 1970's-era automated train control technology working with infrastructure that improves dramatically every decade?


2) is just absolutely incorrect. Buildings are renovated and incoming services changed all the time.

Clearly you know very little about physical infrastructure other than its translation into $.


I'd like to contrast with the rail system in most of Asia (or at least Seoul and Hong Kong). Government run, and always on time. The worst thing is how it can be packed full, but that's just uncomfortable


Hong Kong's MTR is a private, publicly-traded corporation. So are Japan's major rail operators. Korea's long-distance rail operator is government-owned, but not government-run (it's structured as a government-owned for-profit corporation). Singapore's rail system is operated by two for-profit corporations (on tracks built by a government board).


Huh? The Hong Kong system is run by MTR Corporation. The Seoul subway is run by Korail and Seoul Metro corporations.


> This is a good point; seems like an isolated demand for rigor. The bar we should be aiming to be above is "better than Comcast", which is a quite low standard.

The problem is that in many cases, the common folk in a town have to pay at least somewhat for the municipal broadband even if they do not use it; so it'd better be worth using.

I can understand municipal cable conduits and such, since they are somewhat analogous to the roads; but when your municipal government is actively excluding competition (Comcast in this case, if the title is anything to go by), they had better make sure they municipal cars on those roads are good; because if you don't like them, your only recourse is generally to leave town.

To satisfy the "better than Comcast" requirement, generally speaking the only thing you need to do is stop excluding their competitors. Comcast is actually pretty reasonable in competitive markets; but when a satellite internet company needs specific permission to operate in your county, that's something you can fix right now, with no investment, and immediately gain some competitiveness in your ISP market.


> the common folk in a town have to pay at least somewhat for the municipal broadband even if they do not use it; so it'd better be worth using.

Just anecdotally, there are Whip City Fiber signs up all over (you get a discount if you let them put one on your lawn with installation). We're long past the days where Internet access is desired by only a subset of the population. I think $70/mo is a little above what "everybody" wants to pay. I am hoping after the initial financials have settled, they will offer a lower tier.

> actively excluding competition (Comcast in this case, if the title is anything to go by)

If you read the article, what Charlemont rejected was the town paying Comcast for a build out. That's a significant point that's glossed over in most of these public vs private debates - with low population density, private communications companies do not nobly invest their own money, but get the government to pay for the infrastructure that they end up owning.


> actively excluding competition

Is that what's happening here? Comcast bid "$462,123 plus interest" and the city decided that they would rather build themselves. Doesn't sound like they are being excluded. Am I missing something here?

> Comcast is actually pretty reasonable in competitive markets;

The problem as I see it is that most of the US (particularly rural areas) are not competitive, and the costs of entry typically prohibit new entrants from providing service. There are massive fixed costs involved in building a new cable/internet service. Elsewhere (e.g. the UK) this is at least partially avoided by having the ex-state-owned telcos provide mandatory unbundling of last-mile service.

Perhaps state-provided conduits would unlock more competition though; I haven't seen any analysis of that option (would be interested if you know of any).


> the common folk in a town have to pay at least somewhat for the municipal broadband even if they do not use it

Keep in mind here that this was the Comcast model, as well. The town was going to pay to expand the infrastructure, then Comcast was going to use it.

I take your overall point, though, about encouraging competition among service providers. Unfortunately, this is something that in many places cannot be accomplished at the local level, as Comcast (along with other large providers) have been lobbying and colluding at state and regional levels to prevent competitors from entering the market. Municipal broadband, for some localities, may be the only effective solution available.


Given that the story said they rejected a deal in which the city would pay $462,123 plus interest for Comcast to come in, then I'd say the "common folk" would be paying for it in either case.

It's just in one case, the money is ceded to a private corporation.


Your post is based on a premise that is simply false:

> And whatever else the fact is that privatized information infrastructure simply has not worked overall.

"Worked" compared to what? The U.S. is in the top 10 for average connection speeds: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_Internet_.... It is far ahead of France, Germany, the U.K., Italy, and Spain (which is 70%+ of the EU population). That's all the result of private infrastructure.

> Of course governments can have issues too.

This is a huge understatement. Our roads are full of potholes. Amtrak is never on time. WMATA is on fire. New York spends 5-7x as much money to build a mile of subway as London or Paris.[1] Our water infrastructure is poisoning children with lead.[2] That's our public infrastructure.

I travel to Germany and Japan for business, and when I come home, it's not broadband that I'm steamed about. Our broadband is fine (better than Germany, worse than Japan), especially here on the east coast. But our public, government-run infrastructure is total shit in comparison. After riding Japanese trains around, I get on the D.C. Metro and it makes me actively mad.

To me, the correct premise seems to be exactly the opposite of the one you're applying. U.S. state and local governments are so completely awful at building and maintaining infrastructure, that even a private monopoly with no competition is preferable to a government-run system.

[1] https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/28/nyregion/new-york-subway-...

[2] https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/watchdog/ct-chicago-wate...


>'But our public, government-run infrastructure is total shit in comparison. After riding Japanese trains around, I get on the D.C. Metro and it makes me actively mad."

It's worth noting that many of those wonderful trains in Japan are are actually privately owned though:

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2011/10/why-tokyos-pr...

But I agree with your points.


In those countries with better infrastructure there isn't as strong of a government-is-always-awful ideology as we have here. Our "conservative" politicians thinks of their job as destroying government. So we get bad government. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Except infrastructure is awful in solidly blue states as well as red states. What "conservative politicians" are to blame for the NYC subway falling apart? I think you've got the causation backward. There's a bigger "market" for anti-government rhetoric in the U.S. than in Europe because the governmental units closest to the people here are so awful.


Democrats in the US would be considered center right in many European countries. The highest income tax rate in Denmark is around 80%. If you want excellent public infrastructure, you need to be willing to invest into the commons (not hand it over to the private sector - there is no example I am familiar with where that has led to better outcomes in the long run).


That’s not really true either. Tax rates are higher outside the U.S. (but also flatter—VAT taxes which are pervasive in Europe would be considered a right-wing attempt to shift the tax burden to the middle class here.)

But infrastructure isn’t more “left” in Europe, and it’s often more “right.” The Danish telecom operator owns all the copper and almost all the cable and is a fully private company. And Denmark got rid of its telecom regulator recently. The Danish rail operator is a for-profit government owned company that is in the process of being privatized. Deutsche Bahn is organized as a for-profit company. (The Japanese rail operators are all for-profit companies.) Stockholm’s dark fiber provider is organized as a for-profit company. Whereas De Blasio has turned fiber in NYC into a social justice issue, the Stockholm fiber provider built out its network based on demand and revenue generation (e.g. businesses first), and charged high initial hookup fees (approaching $1,000). The British commuter rail system is run by private companies. While London’s subway is run by the city, it pays for itself with fares (while half the costs of the New York subway come from the government). Nobody in Europe has anything like our Universal Service Fund, which shifts billions of dollars a year from urban areas to rural areas. It goes on and on. Europe was late to the deregulation game, but ran with it in the 1990s and 2000s.

Case study: the U.K. The U.K.'s telecom infrastructure is almost entirely owned by a single private, for-profit company: BT. British telecom law imposes an open access requirement, requiring BT to lease access to competitors. However, because British regulators are sane, these leases are made at rates that leave BT with similar profit margins to Comcast. BT, unsurprisingly, has invested in upgrading its copper network. The U.S. had a similar requirement for DSL, but the FCC set the rates so low (at cost) that it basically killed investment in the copper network.

The idea of the government owning and running rail, power, or telecom infrastructure these days is solidly left of center compared to Europe.


The key point is that you need tax revenue to manage (build, own, operate, or regulate) public infrastructure well.

Expecting great rail, road, or internet service without paying high taxes and strong government involvement hasn’t worked out. Nothing in your post contradicts that.

In many cases, public funding was even required to put in place the core infrastructure and conditions for privately operated companies to succeed. That’s certainly the case for high speed rail in Germany.


> Expecting great rail, road, or internet service without paying high taxes and strong government involvement hasn’t worked out. Nothing in your post contradicts that.

All of the examples in my post are ones where "high taxes" aren't used to pay for infrastructure, or where "government involvement" is limited because infrastructure is managed by for-profit corporations. Stockholm doesn't have pervasive fiber because of "high taxes" (tax dollars were not used to build the network) or "strong government involvement" (while Stokab is owned by the city, it is a for-profit corporation and the city does not control its rate and expansion plans). Denmark's telecom system, likewise, is owned by a private company, was not built with public money, and is loosely regulated (Denmark got rid of its telecom regulator recently). Japan's railways (owned by private companies which mostly run at a profit), and London's subway (which breaks even through fare revenue) are examples of great infrastructure that are not the result of "high taxes" and "strong government involvement."

It's fair to point out that European systems aren't completely privatized and often receive subsidies. There is a spectrum. But the U.S. is generally on the left-side of that spectrum. U.S. passenger rail is almost entirely government-owned, government-run, and heavily subsidized. New York receives half its budget from taxpayer funding, for example.

Europe tends to be further right on the spectrum. For example, in the U.K. a government agency owns most of the track, but private Train Operating Companies own the trains and provide service. And London's subway system receives all its funding from fares. You see high levels of privatization in the U.K., Germany, Netherlands, Denmark, etc. You also see multi-national competition--half of train operating companies in the U.K. are foreign firms; Deutsche Bahn subsidiaries operate passenger rail service in the Netherlands, etc. Can you imagine NY MTA opening up its network to competing operators from Europe? Now, European systems receive subsidies, for sure. But Deutsche Bahn at least runs an operating profit. U.S. rail operators universally rely on tax dollars just to meet their operating expenses (and rely on the government for all of their capital expenses).

At the other end of the spectrum, many Asian rail systems receive few subsidies, and are mostly responsible for their own capital expenses. Japan, Hong Kong, and Singapore systems are operated (and often owned) by private companies, and run a significant profit.


The NYC subway is a poor example, since its funding is dependant on the conservative (but not for much longer) state government.


Calling the New York state government “conservative” is laughable. Democrats have controlled the governor’s seat for 32 of the last 43 years. They have controlled the Assembly (which has primary responsibility for tax and spending bills) for all of the last 43 years. New York state has one of the highest levels of taxes and public expenditures in the whole country.


The other point is that with a government, people have the opportunity to vote management out. Not so much with Comcast.


But you don't have the opportunity to vote with your pocketbook at all once it becomes a government service.

Why not use the power of government to create a competitive market that would allow new ISPs to enter the market? Like making a modest investment in common conduits into neighborhoods that all ISPs can wire through?


How can you vote with your wallet against a monopoly? Just go without? That's not a choice, it's coercion.


Is private sector waste a big thing?

I wonder if there's something simple we're missing for a way to stop public spending that goes to corruption/waste.


> Is private sector waste a big thing?

As anyone who has ever spent any time working in the private sector will tell you:

Absolutely. Large companies routinely piss millions, and billions of dollars away on ego projects, inter-department fighting, building things that are counterproductive to the company's goals, bloating their bureaucracy, and other corporate politics bullshit.

Not to mention that any income that's left is skimmed off the end, by shareholders. I get that they want a profit on their investment, but from the customer's perspective, dividend payments are a great example of waste.


>Is private sector waste a big thing?

sure, lots of big companies have problems with waste. Keeping things lean, focused and uncorrupted gets hard with size and higher hierarchies. But if the incentives are there it is somewhat easier for a private enterprise to avoid waste in all its forms.

>I wonder if there's something simple we're missing for a way to stop public spending that goes to corruption/waste.

Yes, accountability and informed voters. Why is a major who hired her cousin as city manager (even if it was at market rate) still in office?

Bringing reporting to the 21 century with easy to digest dashboards how various metrics of the city changed over the last 12 years or so would also help. The data is mostly there, it's just very time consuming to consume.


  Why is a major who 
  hired her cousin as 
  city manager (...)
  still in office?
Decline in quality local newspapers with original reporting?


Keep in mind, Charlemont has no mayor and most issues, including this one, are decided by open town meeting, which is literally direct democracy where residents show up and everyone gets one vote. No one has the ability to hire someone for an exorbitant salary without literal approval by a direct vote of all residents who show up at a meeting.

This isn't to say open town meetings are perfect. There is a definite skewing towards retired people without kids in who shows up in many towns in MA. In this case, ~160 or 1,300 residents voted, so hardly the whole town. But if you care about an issue, you have far more of a voice than you do in cities run by mayors and city councils. For instance, Boston residents literally had no voice in the city's negotiations with Verizon about FiOS and didn't even hear about it until they jointly announced their deal.


One note: this was a special town meeting just for this issue and not the general town meeting which is in the spring. A lot more people show up for the general meeting.

I live one town over from Charlemont and as a now 20-year New England transplant I've grown to love town meeting. Everyone's voice is heard and you can make a real difference with just a simple speech. I was able to help defeat some ordinance language against WISPs at last years town meeting that another resident with "electromagnetic hypersensitivity" had tried to get passed.


>Boston residents literally had no voice in the city's negotiations with Verizon about FiOS and didn't even hear about it until they jointly announced their deal.

Boston residents got a taste of what it's like for the rest of the state when the Boston/Cambridge area runs the show.


The difference is that in this case because this is a more "local" power you, the consumer/voter, actually have the power to hold them liable. Imagine living in a Town with less than 2.5k people living in rural midwest and comcast screws you over, what are you going to do? They only answer to Stockholders and "big fish" markets.

Elected officials care and respond to votes and the smaller the area of control, the easier it is to get your voice heard.

I wish competition would be enforced rather than this all-or-nothing approach.


>Imagine living in a Town with less than 2.5k people living in rural midwest...

And:

>Elected officials care and respond to votes and the smaller the area of control, the easier it is to get your voice heard...

I think either you haven't lived in such a town, or small towns in Wisconsin, where I'm from, are atypical in this regard. Not sure which, since I've never personally lived in any small town outside of Wisconsin.

In my experience, bronco21016 is right to be suspicious of local government. But again, YMMV. Different places may have different dynamics.


Parent said it's easier for your voice to be heard, and you responded with they either haven't lived in a small town or yours are different. So are you saying, implied from what you chose to quote, your experience is that it is not easier for your voice to be heard? My experience is the exact opposite.


Your comment doesn't offer a rebuttal other than "you haven't lived in such a town". I'd be interested in hearing more.


I generally agree with you about government being not inherently trustworthy just because a town is small. However, I think small town governments are generally less bad than larger town/city governments just because of the reduced number of people represented per elected official.

I've lived in small and smallish towns in four states and pay attention to local politics because I was raised to do that.

Local culture is the dominant term in the equation by a mile. How effective and efficient government is a reflection of how effective and efficient people (some of whom make up the government) expect it to be. A "highly competent" government from New Jersey would have people talking about tar and feathers in Maine.

Within a given state it seems like government effectiveness is inversely correlated with population and wealth. The more money you have the easier it is to justify pissing some of it away on boondoggle projects. The more people you have the less accountability there is.

Another thing I've noticed is that in the smaller government states the middle class poor don't hate the state government as much because it doesn't affect them as much or as often.


A more broad question. Why is it that corrupt officials continue to get re-elected? Especially in a small town (speaking as someone who has never lived in a small town), it seems like the residents would be better informed of a representative's corruption.


It’s rarely corruption as such. In a genuinely small town, you have town officials maybe making $30K per year and decisions like the one discussed here being voted on by the 10% who care enough to show up at a town meeting. Most probably hadn’t heard what was going on if there’s no town newspaper.

I don’t mean to sound bleak. I live in a small town. In general public works does a fine job. I’m not sure I’d trust them to make the right decision on and rollout broadband.


Sounds like your small town is socially dysfunctional. If you think your neighbors are apathetic, why aren't you out doorknocking to get them to show up to these things, or bringing it up at the church potluck/what have you? I don't see how these things are different in cities except when people are wiling to do this civic engagement work.


The statistics I quoted referred to the OP article. I care about relatively few town issues and have attended meetings or signed a petition when there’s been something of interest. I don’t go to church potlucks or other town events in general nor do I care to for the most part.


Maybe you're arguing something else, but I was responding to the general sentiment on this thread that small towns are somehow more susceptible to corruption than other places. It reads to me like you were trying to provide causation for that. Important local decisions being made by a vote with pitiful turnout happens in towns and cities of all sizes, and if anything I would argue the greater bureaucratic complexity of a large city and the better salaries make them more susceptible to 'corruption', not less. (Though I'm also suspicious of anyone complaining about 'corruption' without clarifying what they mean, which seems to be happening a lot on HN lately.)


I don’t think small towns are corrupt in the traditional big city sense with any frequency. There isn’t enough money involved. Competence is more of a mixed bag I expect.


Many small towns definitely do listen to their residents. Not all, unfortunately.


Also, the city doesn’t do the whole deal necessarily — they can do things like lay the fiber, then lease it to various providers to figure out transit from the local plant across the internet.

This would be more like the dial-up days, where the line to connect to the network is fairly independent from who provides the service.


Competition is broadly inconsistent with natural monopolies.


A model that works really well in large parts of New England is "town meeting" - all the citizens of the town who want to get together annually or semiannually and vote on all the important issues. There are also selectmen, who generally guide the way, and other town staff, who manage the day to day issues, but control is fundamentally in control of the citizens. It only works in towns with a population up to about 10,000 though, before it becomes infeasible to get all those people together and the town needs to react more quickly.

In a lot of small towns around here they require that two ISPs provide coverage, so there is actual competition and we get great service fairly cheaply.


I agree that there are risks, but at the very least you and your neighbors can a) identify corruption or mismanagement and b) work to vote corrupt leadership out. Much harder to do with Comcast.

(And for the record, I'm all for real competition in these markets. Let Comcast and the municipality battle it out. May the best provider win.)


I strongly suspect that what you'd find is that Comcast would simply "pass" on trying to compete in those towns. Comcast loves towns where they can be a monopoly provider (like mine) and in a case where there'd be bloody competition against a municipal provider, I suspect they'd rather fight on another front.


How badly do you want to be a taxpayer in a city with a government that’s determined to spend out of the bottomless public purse to compete with Comcast?


It's the other way around, actually. Private ISPs cannot survive without statutes that prevent the establishment of municipal ISPs. Like all utilities, Internet traffic has a very low per-unit cost, making it unviable to turn a meaningful profit without engaging in predatory business practices.


I thought you might be my neighbor but since you talk about Comcast and I am in Africa I guess we just have the same issues with local government.


The mayor of my town won election with just over 300 votes. Even the nearby city of 100k people elected their mayor with only 10,000 votes.

It's a lot easier to rid yourself of corruption at this level than it is at a corporate or a federal level.


You should run for Mayor, I believe in you.


> bronco21016 for Mayor 2019

Can we do this? How could we put this together? More generally, is he qualified? How do we tell?


We need a dossier on the incumbent mayor. Bronco's qualifications won't matter.


incumbant.io is available. I sense a grass-roots campaign platform application. Probably SaaS. Maybe 'campaign as a service'?

Given recent events, this seems like it might actually be an appropriate idea to pursue.


I lived in a MA town for a few years, and had municipal broadband.

The people who installed it raved about how they preferred working for the town instead of Comcast.

Service was exceptional.


>Here's my personal example with my city government. Therefore, all the city governments must be bad.


>"My point is simply that I’m not sure a purely municipal broadband is the panacea we all hope for."

I have never heard of it referred to as a "panacea." What it is is an alternative and some competition.

I fail to see how having another option where there is now none could ever be worse than "sticking with the devil you know." Look at what either the arrival or even the threat of Google fiber has done is some cable monopoly areas.


As someone who has worked for an isp I can assure you there’s no shortage of corruption and waste there.


You could start a cooperative within your town.

https://www.thelocal.de/20140601/german-villagers-build-own-...


I highly recommend The Dictator's Handbook in order to fully understand the de facto politics going on in governments.


I'd also like to recommend CGP Grey's Rules for Rulers (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rStL7niR7gs) which is based on The Dictator's Handbook. I really should add that to my library though...


Seconded. There are municipalities doing things right, but The Dictator's Handbook is an excellent set of case studies in how it can go very wrong. (Also discusses actual dictators, corporate governance, and other related scenarios.)


> My point is simply that I’m not sure a purely municipal broadband is the panacea we all hope for. In some cases it may be better to stick with the devil you know

No, the answer is to elect better politicians, like AOC, resigning yourself to a corporation is a TERRIBLE idea!


It’s a hard sell to say that your experience with your small government is indicative of all small governments and somehow warrants going with the leeches at Comcast instead.


This user has 0 comments, 0 submissions except related to this issue. I call bullshit. You're not a real person, you're a corporate insider.


"为人民服务"已变成一句空话。


Google Translate says: "Serving the people" has become an empty talk.

I'm not sure what others think, but I think it's probably better for the community that comments be in English unless there is a compelling reason for them to be in another language. But I am a native English speaker, so maybe this is just motivated reasoning on my part?


I feel like people are being shortsighted about municipal fiber. It’s not a one time and you forget it thing. Verizon has upgraded the FiOS network several times since 2005.

We have some towns on the eastern shore of MD that did municipal cable, back when that was the state of the art. Those systems are lagging far behind Comcast now because nobody wants to raise rates to generate cash for upgrades.

Municipal fiber is a solution to a problem created by the municipalities. The municipalities suppress competition by using their authority over TV regulation to impose build-out requirements. You can’t enter as a competitor without building out to a whole city. No MVPs or niche products.

There's also more free-market ways to accomplish the same thing. Stockholm, for example, has quasi-municipal dark fiber. The network was built by a company created by the city for that purpose. While the city owns the company, the city does not run the company, fund it, or control its business strategy (prices, deployment). The company built the fiber network using private capital, charging customers up-front for a hookup, and expanding the network over more than a decade based on demand and revenue potential (e.g. businesses first), rather than politics.


The thing is the bulk of the cost is pulling wires. Fiber optic cables have an almost unlimited theoretical bandwidth. You just need to upgrade the hardware on both sides, which is getting cheaper by the minute.


A lot of the cost is pulling wires, but the equipment on both sides is also a major expense. FiOS scaled up from 75 mbps to 1 gbps over the same passive infrastructure, but the cost of upgrades was substantial. BPON line cards were upgraded to GPON linecards, and an upgrade to NGPON2 is in the works. As bandwidth went up, the number of customers per line card had to go down. 1G router ports had to be upgraded to 10G router ports. Etc.

I mean, just do a traceroute and see how many hops there are before you get to a peering node. In a municipal system, that's all infrastructure that the government has to pay to upgrade.


> I mean, just do a traceroute and see how many hops there are before you get to a peering node

Most carrier equipment operates below layer 3, and so is invisible to traceroute. But since you referenced it:

    traceroute to 8.8.8.8 (8.8.8.8), 30 hops max, 60 byte packets
     1  192.189.29.1 (192.189.29.1)  4.120 ms  4.267 ms  4.427 ms
     2  172.17.1.85 (172.17.1.85)  4.021 ms  4.077 ms  4.100 ms
     3  h252.63.131.40.static.ip.windstream.net (40.131.63.252)  10.661 ms  10.613 ms  10.600 ms


Why would it cost the government more to do that than Verizon?

Half joking: is it because the government gave Verizon billions of dollars?


Exactly. We're getting municipal 10 gigabit in my town currently. I can't see myself being unsatisfied with 10 gigabit fiber for a long long time.


But I have read that some researcher pushed consumer fiber optic to over 1tbps. So even when every wall of your house will be streaming 8k video 24/7, you might not reach the limit of the pipe.


“almost unlimited” doesn’t mean anything.


> We have some towns on the eastern shore of MD that did municipal cable, back when that was the state of the art. Those systems are lagging far behind Comcast now because nobody wants to raise rates to generate cash for upgrades.

It seems like the best solution would be to do both. Have a municipal network that serves everybody so that you don't need build out requirements for anyone else, then stop having them.

Then if the municipal network is not providing competitive price/performance in a particular area, other small providers can spring up. Meanwhile if you're in a farmhouse in the countryside, your options will be slower and more expensive than someone in a skyscraper in the city, but you'll still be guaranteed to at least have one.


I think it's important to have internet access as a safety net, but building a whole municipal network for that seems like a waste of public money. It would be much cheaper to subsidize commercial 5G service for those folks who can't get wired broadband.


There isn't any reason a municipal network couldn't reach rural customers using wireless.

The trouble with subsidies is, what happens if there is nothing to subsidize? In sufficiently rural areas there may be zero existing providers, and still be zero providers even if you offer a modest subsidy. But if you offer a large subsidy then the costs quickly get out of control as less rural areas that needed some but not that much end up claiming more subsidy than was actually necessary, and regulatory capture encourages the government to shovel more public money to private providers.

You also have trouble with suburban areas that can justify fiber but not twice. If there is only going to be one provider with no competition, better the municipality than Comcast.


A properly designed dark architecture for fiber, with small neighborhood powered nodes, can have a 50+ year life... It's the electronics that are going to need replacing. Same whether you build for 1 strand active Ethernet to each CPE or a 1x16 split gpon.


And who in the government of a small town is competent to design such an architecture? Who is competent to hire a competent company to design such an architecture? In the case of my town the answer is nobody. Our municipal internet project has been a boondoggle of incompetence, false starts, and mismanagement. Going on a decade. Meanwhile the people using Comcast or AT&T generally have usable service. I'm not a fan of either company, but at least they're getting the job done.


I don't see the problem here. The government doesn't need to be competent to design anything; the job of government is to control the funding and legalities, and contract with companies that can do the work. If the government isn't competent to hire a competent company, that's the government's fault, and by extension, the voters'. If the voters can't elect competent people to run their government, that's really OK: they're getting the government they deserve. If they're not competent enough to vote for decent government officials, they're not going to be competent enough to purchase service from good companies themselves either.


>If the government isn't competent to hire a competent company

In a small town, there may just not be anyone with the necessary knowledge and expertise. You can't vote for someone who doesn't exist.


In theory this should be simple:

1. find a similar town that has good municipal internet 2. ask them who did it for them 3. hire those people

If everybody knows they are ignorant, you're probably OK. The big problem is in the towns where people think they have the expertise but don't.


The town has a government comprised of the people from that town. If there isn't anyone in the town smart enough to run for government who, as the other responder pointed out simply needs to look for other towns that did something similar and ask them how they did it and who they contracted with, then obviously the town is full of utter morons, and by definition, the democracy in that town is working as designed: the people are getting what they deserve.


In the case of Charlemont, they're working with Westfield Gas & Electric, which has already designed and installed municipal fiber for its own town (Whip City Fiber) and has designed fiber installations for several other cities in Western MA.

Charlemont has studied the issue for years and are working with an organization that took the time over years to test out municipal fiber in the own community by creating "fiberhoods" and now is covering 70% of Westfield.


The obvious solution seems to be a public entity at federal level. They would be big enough to have the relevant expertise without the misaligned incentives of the big corporate companies.


> public entity at federal level

> without the misaligned incentives of the big corporate companies

There's plenty of misaligned incentives at any Nth level of government. They're just more diverse. Some are political instead of financial.


However, there are plenty of example of government organisation successfully managing broadband infrastructure projects.


"nobody wants to raise rates to generate cash for upgrades."

So maybe we change that mindset, rayiner.


FiOS... Multiple times .... meanwhile, in Silicon Valley... sigh


Was it debt-financed? Interesting. I like the Stockholm model.


Yes.


> Verizon has upgraded the FiOS network several times since 2005

The what network?

Your comment is reasonable in the abstract, but I'm sorry to say that in the specific context it's ridiculous. There is little functional difference between a municipal network that has trouble convincing residents to spring for an upgrade, and a company that will never see a profit in it.

Except that municipal network is currently offering 1Gb/1Gb with a possible future difficulty, while the Verizon network is offering 3Mb/384kb and hasn't been touched since it was deployed two decades ago.


Good! By allowing individual municipalities to manage their own Internet infrastructure, we can help keep the Internet from becoming effectively owned by the likes of Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.


The best way is to let the city provide the last mile infrastructure (the connection between nearest POP and your house), and then lease it to ISPs for a fee to maintain it.

That way we once again can have competition like during the time DSL was popular (telcos were required to lease their wires, that's why there was so much choice of ISP for anyone who remembers early 2000)


I hear this argument all the time, but I don't really see it. What value is the ISP providing here? They sell you service on physical infrastructure that you the taxpayer already paid for? Peering? It seems like it would be much more efficient for a municipality to just negotiate citywide peering agreements for everyone.

Some people try to push the "value adds" line, like IPTV and phone service, but I don't see any reason those should be tied to your base internet service. Those arguments smell like the old cable company days, when everything had to be a "bundle".


> it would be much more efficient for a municipality to just negotiate citywide peering agreements for everyone

Negotiating peering, providing customer support, buying routers and modems, maintaining equipment, et cetera isn't a core competency of most municipalities. If municipal broadband scales, we'll likely replace the ISPs with broadband servicing companies. Explicitly privatizing those operations makes it more transparent, while releasing every single municipality from having to acquire a niche skillset.


> providing customer support

It could be argued that they don't even provide this adequately in areas where they are a market monopoly.

My local government provides far better customer support. When there is an issue or grievance, there is a place to file it and someone will always respond. As an added bonus, they don't try to sell me additional services every 5 minutes.


> > providing customer support

> It could be argued that they don't even provide this adequately in areas where they are a market monopoly.

It's almost as if being a monopoly means you don't have to invest in cost centers like customer support...

Really though this is pretty much the core problem. High costs + build-out requirements mean monopolies are granted, whether explicitly or not.

Municipal last mile means the hardest part is done once, and then any ISP is free to compete -- which they can do based on offering the best support, fastest peering, etc. The cost of entering the market is reduced to getting set up in the PoP(s).


America's present ISP situation is worse than almost any alternative. Presently, the best-run municipalities are exploring municipal broadband. Their experiences will be positive. But not all municipalities are well-run. And today's well-run municipalities turn into tomorrow dumpster fires.

Publicly-owned infrastructure rented to private provider-maintainers is a proven model. It isn't a fire-and-forget solution. But by dividing power between the municipality and private operator, it provides a rudimentary balance. Remember, we got here because municipalities gave ISPs local monopolies. I don't get why we suddenly believe they'll now be totally competent and benevolent.


> America's present ISP situation is worse than almost any alternative.

I strongly disagree. Have you ever been to Germany? All the infrastructure we have in the U.S. is shit compared to Germany. The roads, the trains, etc. The one bit of infrastructure in the U.S. that isn't shit in comparison is broadband.


> Have you ever been to Germany? All the infrastructure we have in the U.S. is shit compared to Germany.

As a Swiss New Yorker, I get where you're coming from. It doesn't lightly occur to me that our subways were almost entirely built by private companies. (With heap loads of public funding, albeit.) We have ISP competition in New York, which is how we get superior service. That isn't the case in much of America; letting municipalities be that competition is, to me, better than letting Comcast et al retain their monopolies.


>America's present ISP situation is worse than almost any alternative.

Blanket statements like this are pointless. I lived in Austin for a few years and had multiple fiber ISPs to choose from and was able to get 1 gbps for $70/mo.


Thats 100% because of Google Fiber- if you'd come in a couple years before that, the high speed choices were all expensive, bundled, and data capped.


You do know that an ISP has much more equipment than the cables that run to your house right? Good internet vs bad internet can easily be entirely in mismanaged peering, qos, aggregation, etc.

IPv6, support for static IPs, etc all depend on much more than the wire. I'm not confident municipalities have any motivation to do more than the bare minimum when it comes to managing all of this stuff beyond the physical infrastructure.


By last mile I'm talking about the physical wire between your house and POP. Layer 1-2 none of the protocols you mentioned work on that level, those would be provided by the ISP.

The issue is city, users, ISPs can't afford to have a separate wire per ISP per house. It's extremely expensive and wasteful, because most of the time most houses will use at most a single ISP.

What I'm saying is that city should be responsible for providing the physical connectivity, think of it like roads. It would be crazy to think that every store, office etc would have to build their own roads to every house.

All what's needed is a fiber between your house and POP. What's plugged in on both ends is up to ISP. The city only needs to worry that fiber is there and it works. Same as the city needs to worry there is a road and it is usable. The city then can lease that fiber to ISP for a fee to cover the maintenance.

Off topic: I don't want to ISP to do QoS for me so if we could chose between different ISPs I would shop for ones that don't do it. I know better which traffic is more important to me than my ISP.


Don't think of it like roads. Building roads is very expensive, laying down fibers is cheap. It's so cheap, that ISPs can afford to compete with like a dozen other ISPs in densely populated areas and with at least three in sparse areas. They won't get super rich like this, but it's still profitable and sustainable.


The actual work is cheap, but laying down the fiber is the most expensive because the incumbents purposefully make the process long and requires jumping through a lot of hoops.

Even if laying fiber would cost $0, it is still not a good idea to do it. The way things are currently if there are 10 competitors one would have 10 have then fiber cables go to their house, or every time one would change an ISP you will have to wait for new wire to be laid, potentially coordinating with neighbors, if it would have to go through their property.

Most people will only need a single fiber.


And I'm also confident Comcast business model is to rip you off, everybody hates them because of their practices and their history. This is a step forward. Yes, lots of things can go wrong but we break off the big leech off our backs, we can work on it together rather than empower the big companies to do it for us.


The ISP provides the Internet access, while another organization provides the infrastructure to talk to the ISP.

This model is used in data centers where a single company is selected by the owner of the building and they are responsible for all the wiring (it would be very expensive and a lot of redundant wiring if multiple companies could do that), but selecting an ISP is a matter of just using a short patch panel in exchange room. You can easily switch ISPs or use several of them.

Currently when ISPs own the last mile they are only motivated to have speed that's marginally faster (typically DSL) and cheaper (typically wireless). There's no motivation to improve especially after FCC killed net neutrality, since slow speed can actually make them money by prioritizing traffic.

If last mile is separate, ISPs always will be motivated to be fastest and cheapest because the customer can easily switch between them.

The last mile is primarily responsible for laying fiber cable and do repairs if it is broken. If they won't do their job, both ISP and users won't be happy and they might end up being replaced by someone else.


The last mile infrastructure isn't maintenance free and doesn't last forever, so it has to be paid for somehow be it taxes or commercially. Users (in the above situation) paying an ISP are essentially agreeing to a "maintenance contract".


That's why I said "lease to ISP for a fee", the ISP will of course forward that cost to an user, perhaps under extra fees no extra taxes needed, and people who actually use it will pay for it.

BTW: this is how it was with DSL. Title II has this provision, and telco companies were required to lease their lines to ISPs at a "reasonable fee" which was up to FCC to decide (this was so they wouldn't charge ridiculous prices to kill their competitors).

When Title II was reinstated, Wheeler actually excluded this provision, that's why nothing changed in terms of monopoly.


Some things tend to be outside the competence of government departments. Face-to-consumer business tends to be one of them.

Public telcomms were the norm in most of the world (sans US) until the 80s-90s. It wasn't good.

What an ISP is is customer support & infrastructure. These sorts of ideas make ISPs less infrastructure, more customer facing services.

Btw, this is not some untested theory. It's been done a bunch of times. Work's well enough, done right.


For areas where occasional failure and/or occasional required provider changes are tolerable (basic education, for example, may not qualify as one of these):

competitive market > govt control > uncompetitive market

to be more realistic, there's overlap at the ends of these - you can find some local govts that outperformed competitive markets and some uncompetitive markets that outperform local govts, but on average, the above generalization works.

The real pain is that all the incentives that make capitalism work well ALSO incentivize finding ways to break the market, so a competitive market won't stay competitive forever just by existing.


> so a competitive market won't stay competitive forever just by existing

Certainly. If we consider "competitive market" under the same rubric that you proposed: "areas where occasional failure and/or occasional required provider changes are tolerable", it clearly fails that test. So we can probably say that ensuring a stable, competitive market may be a government's responsibility.


The dsl days were terrible. Installers would literally move wires from a competitor because that green box didn't have the capacity.


ISPs are cheap. They use contractors rather than do the work themselves. Keeps them blameless.


> That way we once again can have competition like during the time DSL was popular

DSL competition never happened in the area under question. Covad (a CLEC) deployed gear in Springfield, but Westfield (40k people) was only ever served by Verizon.


> By allowing individual municipalities to manage their own Internet infrastructure, we can help keep the Internet from becoming effectively owned by the likes of Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon

I'm nervous about how thoughtlessly we're embracing public ISP ownership. Local governments are notoriously corrupt, in both politics and police. These referenda expand their power without rebalancing any checks or balances. We just happen to have something breathlessly more broken in the monopoly ISPs.

Going forward, it would be nice to see cities re-open their networks to private management. The city would continue to own the infrastructure. But subpoenas, et cetera would be served to the private operator.


> I'm nervous about how thoughtlessly we're embracing public ISP ownership.

Don't worry-- states like North Carolina have actually outlawed municipal broadband.

> Local governments are notoriously corrupt, in both politics and police.

There was municipal wireless in my town after the FCC overruled these state broadband bans, and before the the court ruled against the FCC. Symmetric speeds. Prices prorated according to what the actual speed was instead of the advertised speed. Pretty decent support.

I witnessed these symmetric speeds directly. I also talked directly to the town manager about the program as it was being implemented. The plan was public and presented at a town board meeting. If there was notorious corruption going on it still hasn't affect speed, pricing, or support response for their service.

Very curious to read your references about notorious corruption of local governments.

> But subpoenas, et cetera would be served to the private operator.

Which is exactly what my town has done to be in compliance with the court ruling allowing state-wide municipal broadban bans.

Same speeds. Same prices. Same support. Possibly even some of the same people, but I'd have to look it up to make sure.

What is the point you are trying to make?

Edit: Keep in mind I wrote "pretty decent support" against a baseline of what I think support ought to be in a first world country. If I measured against Comcast I'd call it "support so amazing it may make you cry."


They're no more corrupt than large corporate players, but I can vote for my local government.


> They're no more corrupt than large corporate players, but I can vote for my local government

My point is that's a terrible baseline to settle for. If our metric for "should we do it" is solely "is it better than Comcast," we've got a problem. My specific concern is around local police having expanded access to locals' internet activity.


No its not. That's a huge distinction - these services are held in the public's interest. Not for the profit motive of small group of shareholders. And things like demand having any control or the idea that you can really switch to the "competition" don't actually exist.

Where were you when all of these private companies built-in backdoors for law enforcement anyways.


I don't see how the local police would have any more access than they would if Comcast were in charge. They'd still have to get a warrant to search anything.


> They'd still have to get a warrant to search anything.

Even better, anything they found without a warrant would be thrown out, unlike if Comcast volunteers to give up data about you.


The police aren't running the municipal ISP? There's no sense in lumping all "government" into one bucket.


OK, do you're rejecting both the idea of the local municipality and corporates. What's your preferred solution?


> you're rejecting both the idea of the local municipality and corporates. What's your preferred solution?

Municipality builds and owns the infrastructure; competitively leases it to private operators for fixed periods of time.


That just seems like choosing the worst of both theoretical worlds you described. The local gov't still has final control over your infrastructure but you also have private industry skimming profits off something you already paid for with taxes.


That's entirely the point and I wouldn't be surprised if this person were a Comcast lobbyist. The goal is to have the public enthusiastically absorb the cost of infrastructure, then introduce inefficiencies designed to sour the public's opinion of municipally-owned internet. The lessees would be able to throttle their own service and blame the infrastructure while raising prices and blaming the cost of leasing. This plants the seed for the public to consider divestment of infrastructure to "lower costs" and "improve efficiency". Then your telco du jour swoops in and offers to buy it all at a fraction of what it would have cost them to invest in the community themselves. In the end the telco ends up with a steal and the residents end up holding the bag.


To me it seems like the best of both worlds. Local government has more limited control with their technical incompetence while private industry doesn't have the ownership leverage to run you around. I want the people I vote for to have control, but I sure as hell don't want them managing, staffing the people for, and maintaining the infrastructure. You can call it "skimming profits", but I just call it IT outsourcing and any reasonable local government should lest they all write their own software and have their own large IT departments. You didn't "already pay for" future maintenance with your past taxes.


In my ideal world we would be talking about the public utility of having network cables (of some baseline quality) running to every building in a municipality that any number of ISPs can provide the actual service for.


> we would be talking about the public utility of having network cables (of some baseline quality) running to every building in a municipality that any number of ISPs can provide the actual service for

Me too. And I think municipal broadband is the right first step--I'm lobbying for it in New York. But as it scales, we'll move from competent municipalities to incompetent one to evil ones. I'd prefer we figure out the balance of power before Ferguson, Missouri rolls out municipal broadband. (Or before they turn into new Port Authorities and BARTs.)


I'm kind of shocked that you'd openly admit to this kind of behavior. You're lobbying for the public to foot the bill for public infrastructure to be used solely by private entities, then intentionally introducing inefficiencies by leasing usage out to said private entities. I'm guessing after customers pay more taxes and still have the same internet bill, you'll then lobby that public internet is a failure and advocate for divestment for some massive discount that will be happily picked up by whatever local monopoly is extorting citizens. Truly disgusting.


> You're lobbying for the public to foot the bill for public infrastructure to be used solely by private entities

By this token this describes basically all public infrastructure then. It's not like roads were built with the idea that only public employees would use them.

> then intentionally introducing inefficiencies

Compared to the inefficiency of having ISPs have to build multiple separate physical networks? This service can be provided to ISPs at zero cost if it really worries you.

> I'm guessing after customers pay more taxes and still have the same internet bill.

Well duh, internet is priced based on how much people value it, not how much it costs to provide. Even in a world where the infrastructure is publicly owned no ISP would dare kill the golden calf by significantly cutting prices. ISPs typically compete in the other direction by providing better service at a given price.

> public internet is a failure

This wouldn't be 'public internet' by any reasonable definition, this would be local loop unbundling. It provides the means for an ISP to enter the market without significant construction costs. Any promise that this will reduce prices or lead to better service is purely speculative.


> By this token...

This would be like NYC building a road exclusively for Uber and Lyft, who can then charge you whatever for access via their transport. NYC loses because it then becomes dependent on ride sharing companies to justify its investment, so these companies can negotiate leases toward zero with the constant threat of pulling out.

> ...internet is priced based on how much people value it...

Yes, and it should absolutely not be. It's literally a series of ~~tubes~~ low-voltage power lines.

> Any promise that this will reduce prices...

Which is why it's a terrible idea. Residents should not be footing the bill for infrastructure that exists to create an artificial marketplace of identical (or worse, artificially differentiated) services. Being an ISP is not mysticism and is easily achievable by local government precisely because the majority of being an ISP is owning the wires. It also gives residents the ability to democratically determine what their own priorities are and adjust local QoS based on their own needs.


Seems to me law enforcement having access to our internet activity (presumably moderated by the courts) is better than private companies just selling that data to the highest bidder


You can vote with your wallet, too.


Comcast is the sole cable internet provider in my area, and in many areas. I realize that it would be the same scenario for this community (in terms of options), but voting with your wallet is impossible in some communities.


Many people can't with regards to ISPs. I only have one provider that goes to my address.


I'm not nervous at all (disclaimer: I support public ownership of infrastructure over private/commercial ownership, stakeholders > shareholders). Local governments are governed by local citizens. I have no impact on Comcast or Time Warner's governance, as either a shareholder or customer. If I don't hold my local government accountable, that's my fault.

My local community owning my roads, sidewalks, water, sewer (storm AND human waste), fire hydrant infrastructure, as well as fire and police services has worked out a-ok. And while I take issue with Florida politics, EVERYTHING is open records. If my local police are corrupt and obtaining data illegally from my muni ISP, I can involve my state's attorney or other legal oversight bodies.

So! The overreaching issue isn't "this is about local internet infra", it's about local governance and self-reliance, which I find it difficult to argue against. Concentrated power corrupts, distributed power empowers.

Obligatory Muni/Startup ISP links: https://muninetworks.org/communitymap | https://startyourownisp.com/


I think OP’s fear is that the quality of local governments varies enormously. Your local government might be awesome. If so, congratulations! Not everyone lives in places with great oversight or has access to the legal means to keep their local government in check. A local government one state over might decide to ban search terms about contraceptives or keep a list of customers visiting LGBT sites for various persecution/blackmail purposes. I grew up in a backwards small town and I could totally see Billy Bob the municipal broadband administrator “sharing his list of fags” with his hillbilly friends. I’m always skeptical when politicians call for local control of something.

As evil as Comcast is, their scale and need to operate in markets across all political/cultural spectrum makes me more confident that they won’t be messing with my browsing for petty reasons—they just want my wallet.


While I can appreciate your concerns over data firewalls as it relates to local government (privacy advocate, annual EFF donation, yada yada), I would like to see a real world example of it occurring in the US before I'd consider changing my stance on locally owned internet infra vs Comcast, Time Warner, et el (I will even put my money where my mouth is, and come after such a municipality personally with an attorney, that's the sort of thing I find fun).

If Billy Bob the municipal broadband administrator is “sharing his list of fags” with his hillbilly friends, you can FOIA logs, emails, records, and come after the city for their transgression. You can vote local government representatives out of office. If Comcast does this, you have no recourse (and they would even be within their right to sell this data to the highest bidder).


Sometimes reading comments on HN I feel like I stumbled into opposite-land.

Private operators are far more "notoriously corrupt" than local government. At large scale, government representation starts to break down and the will of the majority can become distorted. But at a local level, this is absolutely the better alternative to private ownership of what should be considered a fundamental human right.


Privatization has been a disaster for US broadband. I'd love to know which local governments you're talking about, especially considering that all cases of corruption I've heard center around bribes from private capital to influence public policy. If anything, public internet infrastructure would reduce corruption given the number of local governments that grant statuatory monopolies to telcos.


>"Local governments are notoriously corrupt, in both politics and police."

And yet on the whole they are probably still far less corrupt and corrosive than monopolistic ISPs such Comcast, Verizon and Time Warner(or whatever their calling themselves these days.)

I would argue they are more accessible and accountable as well.


Local governments are the ones that granted these companies the monopolies.


This comment is disingenuous at best. It also displays an ignorance of the history of Telecom in the US.

Cable companies were originally granted charters or franchise agreements in the 1970s and 1980s in the US. At that time cable companies were very much local and regional[1]. Also at that time television was delivered over the air and the monopoly was Ma Bell. Twenty years of consolidation happened at the national level. The victims of this hyper-consolidation were local.

Furthermore these municipal franchise agreements given to cable companies/ISPs are generally non-exclusive which is why there are some areas that actually have a duopoly instead of just a monopoly.

Municipalities will generally grant right away access to other interested parties which is why some places have both Verizon and Comcast or Comcast and Uverse etc. In fact the franchise fees collected by municipalities are a great source of revenue. I don't think there's a city in the US that isn't interested in collecting more money.

NYC recently sued Verizon for failing to fulfill its obligations of providing full coverage(and an alternative to the incumbent) to residents of the city[2]. So no local governments are not to blame for the corrosive and corrupt culture of these ISPs. Certainly not in any appreciable manner.

[1] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/14/chart-of-the...

[2] https://www.wired.com/story/new-york-city-verizon-internet/


At least if the corruption is local, there's more likelihood for the money to stay in the local economy. A big corporation siphons the money out of zillions of towns and concentrates it in one place.


It has worked fantastic for Chattanooga Tennessee. I love my EPB speed and price.


how is it any better then current olygopolly? The solution should be raising competitiveness of the market. Like in countries with a lot better internet, especially per dollar.


Internet infrastructure in most countries is publicly owned... Market competition isn't the only way to produce socially desirable outcomes.


It's certainly not publicly owned in the most populous Western countries (UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, etc.).


What is “most countries?”


Note that breaking even over 20 years in this town requires 72% of households to sign up, according to the article. Even if someone managed to cut costs by half, that's a town that can only ever handle two ISPs - maximum - with their own infrastructure at once with everybody signed up.

You could think of a system by which multiple ISPs could sell service over the same city-owned infrastructure, but there's no real benefit to that. (And I say this as someone living in a country where that essentially happens.)


>how is it any better than current oligopoly?

I mean I suppose you could ask the people that voted for it.

>The solution should be raising competitiveness of the market.

Networks like internet providership are notoriously hard to get competitive markets in. Even removing the regulatory barriers to entry there are still natural barriers to entry (high start up cost) and huge returns to scale. The natural state of this market is monopoly or oligopoly.

But even beyond this, this is raising the competitiveness of the market. Internet has become so integrated into the fabric of modern life that many feel compelled to purchase it from the one or maybe two providers in their area. That lowers competitiveness. Demonstrating that municipalities have ways of 'opting out' should force Comcast and other providers to compete with the hypothetical 'public ISP' that citizens can always vote in.


Your comment was dead, but I vouched for it because I believe your second paragraph has value. I'd ask you consider removing the first part, which is unnecessarily snarky and doesn't address the point (how is this better than an oligopoly).


The first point is valid IMHO in a way. Like a lot of small towns in Massachusetts, Charlemont uses an open town meeting style of government, which means all residents have a vote in determining how the town is run.

I would personally believe that if there are issues with quality of service or price or whatnot, this governance style allows for a much better opportunity of addressing issues. Versus being run by a very large monopoly that honestly may not care that much about the ongoing needs of a 1200 population town (read: small revenue source) in the future.

A competitive environment would be better if possible, but failing that, I personally would take a municipal broadband system with a good degree of accountability built into the town governance over an oligopoly.


1300 residents? How many individual premises? That is a rather small scan gpon project. Hope they hire someone with a clue and experience to build and run it, there is not a lot of Venn diagram overlap between municipal managers and network engineers.

I do hope they realize that if they want to do everything themselves, they'll still need transport links to the nearest major IX point, and IP transit upstreams. I don't know of many small towns, sub 5000 population, that have successfully become their own "real" ISP (ARIN AS, their own IP space, presence at an ix with a bgp speaking router, all of the typical ISP back-end operational support software). In addition to all of the costs of being a wholly facilities based ISP at layer 1 in the OSI model.

Another way to do it is for the town to simply build dark fiber, and rent it to interested ISPs. Or to build a layer 2 gpon transport network and do nothing at L3, and no individual customer service, and let different ISPs compete for business with the town running the gpon OLTs only.


Good points, but it's worth noting that Charlemont has fiber deployed through the main (rural) highway as part of the Massachusetts broadband act and MBI(Massachusetts broadband institute). https://broadband.masstech.org/about-mbi https://broadband.masstech.org/news-and-updates/map-gallery/... This should make it substantially easier to get connected and serviced.


I'm one town over from Charlemont and I can look out my window and see a (dark) fiber termination at a town owned building courtesy of MBI. It will probably never carry traffic as we are "fully served" by Comcast with plans that deliver 1/8 the download speed and 1/200 the upload speed at the same cost Charlemont will pay.


Sounds like they need to hire you. Your third option sounds pretty smart.


It's not a totally uncommon network architecture, look at Douglas county and Grant county public utility districts in WA state for instance. Their fiber networks provide L2 transport and different ISPs sell service over it. For bigger business customers they offer dedicated transport and dark options.

But they are also electrical grid operators and share common expenses for lineman crews, bucket trucks, etc between power and fiber. A town of 1300 people is in a very different position.


The second and third options are relatively common in the industry. Sibling comment gave an example, but happy to dig up more.


It's common to question why small villages like this even exist. "To enable reasonable internet connection" is one of the best reasons I've seen so far.


I assure you that small rural towns can be pretty hard to get broadband in from anyone, Comcast included. These towns exist for the most part because people want space and relative quiet.

I'd also note that about 10% of the people in the town participated in the vote and the final vote was fairly close. Hopefully it works out because options aren't great if you can't get Verizon or Comcast in much of the Northeast. (My dad in Maine has about a 0.5Mbit/sec connection.)


Perhaps I wasn't clear. It's obvious that some people simply prefer to live in areas of relatively sparse population. What is in question are the benefits of imposing cumbersome governance structures on situations that don't require them. In a rural USA context, basic health and safety minimums are adequately enforced by the county. In some locations there might be a sewer & water district with part-time local administration. Other areas get by fine with private wells and septic tanks. Neither situation requires a city hall, police chief, etc.

On its face, a fiber district also doesn't require a city hall, but maybe that's what it takes to fend off predators like Comcast. Of course you're right that some areas would like to attract any provider at all, but that's FCC's fault for the constant delays and roadblocks it imposes on WISPs.


Here are a couple of reasons for town government:

1. Massachusetts got rid of county government in Western Mass in the late 1990s. There are some quasi-county offices like the sheriff and a regional cooperative to handle some planning and permitting but everything else is handled at the town or state level. More info here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_counties_in_Massachuse...

2. Town meeting, an annual event where everyone has a chance to speak and vote, is deeply ingrained in civic life. Its the last vestige of direct democracy and a good way to end a long winter. Every dollar that the town will spend for the year is voted on and any resident can speak on any item (warrant article) presented.

I live one town to the east of the town in the article btw and I was able to speak and help vote down a warrant article at the last town meeting to add town regulations for WISPs.


FCC has been coopted by industry, so I don't think that excuse flies anymore.


As if that's a recent thing? It was "coopted" from its creation. It was created to protect Ma Bell (later the "daughters bell" ATT, VZN) and that's all it has ever done. ILECs don't want small WISPs to succeed, so FCC works against small WISPs. (I'm not talking about MNOs, because of course all the FCC protection allowed ATT and VZN to buy and steal their way into that.)


I despise Comcast like everyone here but I'm not sure I would be so happy about municipal internet service unless there was some way to make it not suck. I'm speaking from experience, I used to live in San Bruno that has San Bruno Cable and it's one of the worst customer support experiences I've ever had in my life. I'm currently living in the East Bay, I have Comcast and while I had my share of issues with them both service and experience has been better. Is it even possible to have good internet service in this country?


> Is it even possible to have good internet service in this country?

Yes. I have zero complaints about sonic.[0] They deliver reliable service at a reasonable price (cheaper than Comcast's intro pricing here), and have stellar customer service and punctual install techs. They also have a history of receiving all 5 stars on EFF's yearly "Who Has Your Back" report [1].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sonic_(ISP)

[1] https://www.eff.org/who-has-your-back-2017


> unless there was some way to make it not suck.

There is no way. Highly reliable internet access can only be achieved via multiple independent ISPs including independent last miles. And if high reliability is not important, competition is still the only way to make ISPs care enough for customers not to switch ISPs.


Good for them. I hope this trend continues because ISPs need a good solid kick in the teeth.


All ISPs need is to separate the last mile (the fiber between your house and nearest POP) from their service. Once that would be available, we would have a real compression in that market.

In all countries which are known for having best internet experience the ISP don't own the last mile.


> In all countries which are known for having best internet experience the ISP don't own the last mile.

ISPs own their own last mile almost everywhere. What you may be thinking of is unbundling, where an ISP may be required to let other ISPs use their last-mile facilities at regulated rates. That is a minority rule as well.

Most broadband providers in South Korea own their own facilities: http://www.itu.int/ITU-D/ict/cs/korea/material/CS_Kor.pdf (see Table 5.2).

Norway didn't start unbundling fiber until 2014, but was near the top of the charts in broadband performance long before that. (And it still doesn't impose price regulation on the unbundled fiber.)

Sweden is an exception where, in Stockholm, there as a municipally-owned ISP that provides dark fiber.

Hong Kong had unbundling, then got rid of it in 2004.


The alternative to unbundling (private ownership, any ISP can use) is treating the fibre as infrastructure (public ownership, any ISP can use).

In New Zealand (similar population and area to Oregon) a mixed private & public UFB project is well under way that cost the public about $1 billion. As of March 2018, the original fibre rollout is 89% complete, with fibre available to 1,300,914 households and businesses, of which 550,314 (42.3%) have connected. I think there are approximately 1.6 million households and 0.6 million business premises in NZ.

Getting connected is slow (the public company Chorus that manages connections is crappy) but there is plenty of choice of service (ISP) and good reliability once connected.

Looking at https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiber_to_the_premises_by_cou... shows plenty of countries with private ISPs doing far worse than NZ.

Australia is also rolling out a similar multi-billion project - Australia is about the same size as continental US with 1/10th the population.


I digress. In India, my local ISP owns the last mile and I pay approximately 14 USD each for two lines of symmetric and unlimited 100 Mbps.

ISPs can own the last mile. All you need is extensive competiton.

I went from paying $100(4M/250GB) to $50(20M/500G) to $30(50M/UL) to the current $15 (100M/UL). The prices decreased as more players entered the market. Of course, India doesn’t have excellent internet infrastructure available nationally but you really don’t need public ownership of last mile to make a difference. Just don’t let the ISPs form any kind of a cartel.


So I am, too, from a country where internet is (was) great while ISPs own the last mile (Russia). It seems there are two prerequisites for that:

1. Low level of regulation (i.e. lawlessness) so small ISPs can just string cables in the air without any licensing

2. Relatively young infrastructure

Both of those aren't true for most developed countries. And even if it's not (Russia isn't), at some point market dynamics inevitably lead to monopoly. Most local competing ISPs are forced out of the market recently by state-sponsored mega-ISP that controls uplinks and finally went for last mile, too. As you can guess, the quality went down, while the prices went up.

You can't cheat the market forces unless you eliminate the market. Physical fiber is an amazing moat, there is no way how upstart ISPs can be price-competitive while duplicating an already existing network.


In Russia it's not market forces that push for internet access monopolization, but the government, as it wants Chinese-style mass surveillance and censorship.


When the company offerings can be beaten with local government offerings you know something is bad. Wondering why US has such terrible internet options.


Akamai ranks the US in top 10 for actual speeds, ahead of every large EU country: https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&source=web&cd=&ved=2ahUKEwiS...

Nobody asks “why does Germany and France have such terrible internet options?”


The Germans sure do. "Breitbandausbau" is in the news in my filter bubble like every other week.


I was amazed how slow the internet was when I went to Germany last year, even in downtown Stuttgart.


The #1 economy on the planet ranks top 10 in internet speed, while most of its top companies are internet companies. Interesting. I never understood how California could get away with such a shitty internet when I lived there. Cable and M-lap ranks the US the top 20. Interesting #2.


1) Norway and Sweden are as large as France size wise.

2) Now, for fun, let's integrate the price dimension to this report. Yes I have better (maybe 1.5 to 2 times as fast) Internet than my parents who are in Europe, but I also pay 3 times what they pay for it.


Regarding 2), that seems like an un-justified expectation that 2x in some category should be 2x price.

I can buy a Chevrolet Spark for $14K. Top speed is listed at 110mph. Here's a list of cars that can go 200mph https://www.automobilemag.com/news/all-cars-that-go-200-mph/. Find me a new one for $28K.

I can buy a $90 printer for 27 pages per minute: https://www.amazon.com/Dell-E310DW-Wireless-Monochrome-Print...

I can find a 50 page per minute at >$500, but none less on a quick search.

Here's one of the cheapest modern processors I can find: https://www.amazon.com/Intel-BX80677G3930-Celeron-Desktop-Pr...

Go find me a 5.4ghz processor for $70.


I have no idea what point you're trying to make.

People in France or Germany have access to literally 12 different providers. Everywhere. Granted, it looks like the overall speed is below the US's according to the report, but prices are so much lower (my parents probably pay in the order of $10$/mo for their TV/Internet package) and access is way more homogenous.

I suspect that US results are vastly skewed by hyper-connected areas vs huge parts of the country where Internet is total garbage.


France and Germany have lots of cheap options because they rely heavily on DSL: https://www.oecd.org/sti/broadband/1.2.OECD-FixedMobileBB-20... (see the "Fixed Broadband" tab).

70-75% of France and German broadband connections are DSL, versus 22% in the U.S. The copper networks are mostly depreciated, and copper-loop unbundling has created a lot of competition. But that's also why internet in those countries is so slow. According to Akamai, just 18% of French broadband connections are above 15 mbps, versus 48% of U.S. connections. Copper is also a complete dead-end, technology wise.

Cable in those countries is not super cheap. Kabel Deutschland's gigabit service has a non-promo price of 69.99 euro ($80): https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=de&u=https:/.... Comcast's non-promo pricing is $105, which is a bit more expensive in nominal terms, but cheaper as a percentage of net adjusted disposable income (which is 33% higher in the U.S. than in Germany).

You also need to account for differences in labor costs. Broadband isn't like an iPhone, where it's the same product made in China whether you buy it in the U.S. or in Germany. It's a service, like a hotel stay or restaurant meal. Labor to build, maintain, operate, and support the network is a huge part of the cost of broadband, and skilled labor is significantly more expensive in the U.S. than in Germany or France. That's one of the things that makes pricing comparisons between the U.S. and say Romania completely specious. You can buy a 2-ride subway ticket in Bucharest for $1.22--that doesn't tell you anything about what's a reasonable price for a subway ticket in D.C. The $10/month cost for gigabit fiber in Romania is equivalent to $80/month in the U.S.


What taxes would someone expect on the $105/month Comcast service?

Since all applicable taxes are included in the €70 Kabel Deutschland price.


Depends on where you live.

My total bill for internet service is approximately $110. Of that $110 total, approximately $1.50 is tax/fee.


Your second point assumes that scaling some attribute of value by a factor of two should be associated with an exact doubling of price.

These were literally the first three things I could think of, but I'm sure we could braistorm many more items where the price of a product or service that is twice as good along some axis costs more than twice as much.

It is therefore not a strong argument to say, "Now, for fun, let's integrate the price dimension to this report. Yes I have better (maybe 1.5 to 2 times as fast) Internet than my parents who are in Europe, but I also pay 3 times what they pay for it. "


No, there was no assumption related to an exact doubling, and it's not reasonable to infer one, and arguing against it by means of analogies to unlike goods is unsound.


Well now we're two people on the internet arguing about what a third meant. This couldn't possibly end badly (:

So I have two questions.

1: I read the original parent comment's second point as indicating that a 2x in performance for >2x price as something that should be seen negatively. Do you disagree with this intepretation? Why?

2: My argument was not clearly stated, so I will first state it here. It is unreasonable to expect that performance/quality and price correlate linearly with a coefficient of 1. I offered examples of other disparate products where performance/quality do not double for an exact double price, and in fact doubling performance is associated with much more than doubling price. With the point that we should not expect double performance = double price, it seems that anyone positing that this should be the case for a specific product bears the burden of proof. The question is this: do you think that I am wrong and that we should expect in general to see double performance for double price?

Expansion on my position that the default should not be an expectation of "double performance for double cost": Diminishing returns are common in many optimization tasks. If we see diminishing returns, we should expect prices to more than double for a doubling of performance in general.

Additional point on pricing of broadband. A cousin commenter observed that most of the broadband in the countries in question is DSL rather than cable. If we see two different technologies in play, one able to double the performance of the other, it seems exceptionally unreasonable to expect such linear scaling of price.


I do not see anything in the parent comment indicating a linear relationship. Making a more general comparison of prices is perfectly sound. If you must make an inference, you should construe the argument in the most favorable terms. Also, your choice of comparisons were of unlike goods, and "argument from analogy" is a weak form of argument.


> Now, for fun, let's integrate the price dimension to this report. Yes I have better (maybe 1.5 to 2 times as fast) Internet than my parents who are in Europe, but I also pay 3 times what they pay for it.

"Yes..., but" is a form of sentence that indicates disagreement. This was in response to a comment indicating that the US has faster internet than most large European nations.

The commenter's first argument was about Norway and Sweden, which were held up as examples of good internet countries.

I do not think it is is unfavorable to interpret the post as saying attempting to diminish the advantage posited in their parent (with the Akamai link). Please let me know if you disagree with this interpretation.

In their argument they said that the speed is 1.5x-2x, but the price is 3x. Again, "yes, but" is typically a form of disagreement. The "yes" portion grants a specific fact, and the "but" is intended to diminish the importance. Let me know if this is too unfavorable.

Since the "but" is intended to diminish the value of the double speed, we must infer that the expectation is that the price should be less than triple for double performance. There's not a lot of wiggle room here. We can bargain on fractions between double price and triple price. Let me know if you'd like to bargain on these fractions.

Additionally, the form of the argument is "performance is double, but price is more than double". It is not such a large stretch as you seem to be implying that the expectation in the sentence is that price and performance are proportional. Let me know if I'm off or misinterpreting you here.

Again, my argument is of two parts.

One, that we should expect in the general case that, due to the widespread phenomenon of diminishing returns, doublings of performance are associated with prices that are much more than double.

Two, that since this is the general case, the burden falls on the one expecting prices and performance to be so linear to show that we are in a special case.

Note: I would make this argument for any value between double and triple price, so feel free to haggle on those fractions.

You'll note I am not make analogies, unless you choose to interpret my quite explicit argument most unfavorably. I am arguing that there is a general case and that the general case predicts what the parent has "yes, but"ed. With this argument I am asking for a justification that we are in a special case. The valid counterarguments seem to me thus:

1. Present good evidence we are in a special case. 2. Argue that the general case is not a superlinear relationship between quality/performance and price.

I am open to other counterarguments, of course, as I would hate to push you into a path of argumentation which you do not support.

Of course, if you'd like to continue critiquing the form of arguments, rather than their content, it would become more difficult to trust in your good faith. There are so few teachers arrant these days.


The form of the argument is tangential, but the validity of "argument from analogy" is dependent on the strength of the analogy. Few analogies hold up to substantial scrutiny, and the specific examples cited were all fairly distant in kind from the product in question. I certainly don't mean to dwell on that more than might be relevant, but I did think it reasonable to offer this characterization, since you had similarly characterized the OP's form of argument.

Nothing in the OP's comment can be inferred to be a denial of diminishing returns: if there is "wiggle room", then you should give them the benefit of the doubt. Also, there's no inherent reason to expect that the cost of bandwidth would be anything close to linear. The cost to the ISP does not necessarily increase due to the provisioned speed of a modem, and the used bandwidth is in most senses unmetered. Also, for what it's worth, whether the OP feels like they're getting a good deal is more-or-less independent of the actual mathematics at hand.

There is every reason to believe that bandwidth is a special case: the cost to either the customer or the ISP is not linear with either usage or provisioned speed. However, since the parent's argument is not inconsistent with the concept of diminishing returns, it does not seem valid to arrive at that inconsistency by inference, when other more charitable interpretations exist.

P.S. I'm afraid I don't understand your use of the word "arrant".


I guess we'll have to disagree on the interpretation of, "Yes I have better (maybe 1.5 to 2 times as fast) Internet than my parents who are in Europe, but I also pay 3 times what they pay for it." To me, the most charitable interpretation of this is that 3x price is a negative that diminishes the argument made previously that speeds are higher in the US.

For that to be true, then there is an implicit argument that the price should be lower. Either this argument is there, or the parent is simply complaining. I don't see much other possibility.

Again, I am not arguing by analogy but offering a general case, movement against which must be justified.

As was mentioned in a cousin post, and as I mentioned, there are different technologies in play: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18668662

With this, why should one expect that the cost for ~2x speed on cable should have any relation to ~x speed on DSL.

As for your argument on bandwidth, you seem to treat it as unlimited. It is absolutely a scarce resource and often overprovisioned. The network gear of any ISP only supports so much throughput. It is not an uncommon experience on cable to see drops in throughput at peak hours. Price and artificial bandwidth restrictions for individual modems (your package level) are the tools to handle such congestion and scarcity.

Regarding arrant, I mistyped errant, a reference to knights-errant.


No, I am not arguing that bandwidth is unlimited. That would be prima facie impossible. I'm somewhat confused and distressed to read a summation of my argument which implies such an absurdity; it seems objectionable in the context of a calm and reasoned debate. I'm sure that you meant no offense. I'm not incapable of arguing absurdities, but I hope that this is rare, or at least I hope that you may assume so for courtesy's sake.

Bandwidth is not unlimited, but the point seems irrelevant: costs do not scale linearly, in any sense, for any participant. It does not cost the ISP more or less if my modem is provisioned for 10 or 100 Mbps. It may or may not cost them more money if that bandwidth is actually used, but very few individuals have any large impact on their ISP's operating costs. The aggregate utilization does affect this, but the marginal operating cost per customer is much closer to "fixed/negligible" than "linear in proportion to usage". Correspondingly, customers are not billed based on usage (in the normal case).

The implicit argument is certainly that the price should be lower, but they did not argue a linear price relationship. There is no reason to believe their argument would be invalidated if that were the case, but they did not.


When an ISP leases bandwidth to a customer, they must reserve some amount out of their total available. They may reserve the full amount they have leased, or they may reserve some portion of it. Either way, the reserve is finite and proportional to the actual total bandwidth (the proportion may be 1:1, which is the simplest, but the proportion does not matter for this discussion).

The marginal cost of provisioning me 100Mbps is therefore not limited to the cost of the hardware and setup, but is the opportunity cost of reserving bandwidth for my use. They may not lease this reserve to anyone else. This cost is reflected in the price.

Additionally, we can observe that ISPs tend to grow. Even in a fixed area, they will upgrade hardware over time to increase total available bandwidth. This is driven by demand by existing customers for more bandwidth and new customers. This hardware is very expensive to provision. In fact, I expect that going from total bandwidth x to 2x likely costs more than twice as much as x. I would also argue that it likely costs at least thrice as much.

Products of high fixed cost and finite supply will never be sold at marginal cost (or at least not for anything approaching profit). They will approach marginal cost as N increases (where N is the size of the finite supply).

Another way we can think of a customer leasing bandwidth is that they are purchasing a share of that large and expensive network equipment.

I posit that these are valid ways to look at it. The first, because there is not infinite bandwidth, ISPs must price it like the scarce good it is - prices are how we address scarcity. The second, because ISPs must not price their service as if they are never making another network upgrade.

Again, I am willing to haggle on the cost of 2x performance. I would make all of these arguments for any value under 3x price, as I mentioned above, which is clearly stated in the original parent. There is no need to stick to a strict linear interpretation, and I have said as much more than once now.


For residential service, there is no reason to expect a 1:1 reservation. This would be extremely wasteful. The exact number is not relevant, but residential bandwidth is oversold as a matter of course. Talking about capex and aggregate costs also seems to be drifting from the main theme here: whatever it costs to double the network's capacity is going to be pretty circumstantial, and not directly relevant to the topic of consumer pricing. <i>Ceteris paribus</i>, the marginal cost per individual is still negligible, and the price per unit of provisioned bandwidth only loosely coupled to cost. ISPs charge extra for higher-tier packages because having only one tier of service is leaving money on the table, and because they can.


You're right. The reservation ratio doesn't matter - we agree on this and have both stated it's irrelevant.

We're talking about average internet performance in a nation. This entire thread was kicked off by a comment about Akamai indicating the US as a whole has faster broadband than e.g. Germany.

The cost to wire up the US with an average speed of 2x that of Germany is absolutely an influencing factor in the cost of bandwidth to a consumer. We are talking about performance, not widgets. To double the performance of a nation's network from p to 2p, it is not unreasonable to expect that the cost is greater than double or greater than 3x the cost of performance p.

But, if you want to proceed from an analysis of marginal cost, we can do that as well. ISPs do not fit the model you are using.

Marginal cost for something like an ISP is not a single number. There may be 10,000 consumers with a marginal cost near 0. Then customer 10,001 may have a marginal cost that is "install a new backhaul to the network backbone and extra 10G or 100G routing equipment to serve your neighborhood". Obviously customer 10,001 doesn't get stuck with a bill of $100Ks to be added to the network.

You are attempting to pigeonhole an ISP into a model that assumes a single, flat fixed cost and (effectively) unlimited production of a good at a low marginal cost. That is not the industry we are in.

The fixed costs of an ISP are a stepwise function, not a constant. You cannot model an ISP effectively with an assumption of constant fixed costs.

All other things being equal, the marginal cost of a given customer is <cost of new network equipment or major network upgrade> / N, where N is the number of customers that can be served before the ISP has to install new routing hardware, or in the unhappy path lay new wire.

Now, it is obvious that I have simplified things above. ISPs do not build infra for N customers, then wait for customer N+1 to build out the infra for the next N customers. ISPs invest in their infra in long planning cycles. They cannot effectively build out in this manner in response to a single customer.

Thus, for years at a time, the supply of bandwidth is effectively fixed. With a fixed supply of bandwidth, they can only lease so much. We have agreed that the reservation amount per bandwidth leased is not relevant. The model you want to look at has a vertical supply curve.

Finally, the theory that says consumer price should be the producer's marginal cost is predicated on the assumption that barriers to entry are low. This is not at all the case in ISPs. There is lots of expensive hardware, and there is a significant amount of technical expertise required. Thus, we cannot apply the standard econ 101 model, because we have violated its assumptions.


It's inevitable when a private entity has monopoly of infrastructure. The people have no choice but to buy from it, the private entity has minimal incentive to invest in the infrastructure since it has a guaranteed revenue stream. The only thing they have to do is keep the population placated just enough so that enough voters don't get mobilized to make a stink out of it. For utilities, there is no reason why a private entity should have complete control over it. Water, sewer, gas, electricity, and internet infrastructure should be owned by taxpayers.


>Water, sewer, gas, electricity, and internet infrastructure should be owned by taxpayers.

We'll have the same situation we do with police departments where they're basically impossible to punish for wrongdoing because you're just punishing taxpayers by proxy.


Water, gas, and electric utilities work great. What is different about internet?


Electric and gas are usually not municipally owned.

Water is usually municipally owned but it's intentionally subsidized to the point where even poor people can afford it with relative ease so I'm not sure it makes sense to compare it to internet because presumably internet would need to be approximately pay for itself.


My point is there is some governmental oversight with regards to the quality and access (including price) so that all members of society have access to it, and since it doesn't make any sense to run a different pipe or cable to each residence, internet should be treated in the same manner. Internet is a requirement in today's world, and it's crazy that you can barely get a 1mb or 2mb upload in many places, and that's not even fiber.


why do people assume a local government will be the end all to services? they can be likely just as bad and when they decided your neighborhood isn't a priority you will have little to no recourse.

I do like the town's propose internet speeds and conditions compared to comcast but look at the extra money listed in the article. nearly a million had already been spend to map out the deployment and it will be another million and a half over twenty years to roll it out. throw in that any project past a few years will see the costs explode and this will mean that many will never see their new internet any time soon.

plus finally, it will be interesting what protections are built into the system that prevent the government from tracking the habits of the residents using the service.

so an entity with no financial obligation outside its jurisdiction with unlimited taxation powers and grants is able to out provide a private company, this is not news. when you have more money at your disposal you can make bigger promises the difference is they do not have to deliver as you have no legal recourse when they don't


You realize the people who will be taxed over this agreed to it?

> throw in that any project past a few years will see the costs explode and this will mean that many will never see their new internet any time soon.

Speculation.

> it will be interesting what protections are built into the system that prevent the government from tracking the habits of the residents using the service.

The same protections you'd get from any other provider.


You realize that 89 people out of 1300 residents voted against the Comcast deal. That is not the same as a majority of residents voting for a tax increase to pay for internet. So no, the people that will be taxed overwhelmingly did not agree to this.


People who choose not to vote choose, by so doing, to defer to the preferences of those who vote.

Also, the municipal deployment was approved in 2015, this was rejecting Comcast's offer to become a monopoly provider with inferior technology to head that off.


>why do people assume a local government will be the end all to services?

Because they don't realize that Parks and Rec is a show about a fictional utopia where government is capable of doing things and isn't all a bunch of fiefdoms trying to burn through money less the money be allocated to a different fiefdom.

Like seriously, once you see how that sausage is made you'll never want to eat it. There's good people in government but that doesn't mean it's possible for them to accomplish good things in government.


If people in SF at least looked at the Transit center. 2 Billion dollars+, still closed for repairs. The makeshift bus stop, which is basically a parking lot a block away, works perfectly fine.


corruption.


Just to elaborate on this since he's getting downvoted..

Internet access, like a lot of "free market" items in the USA are really a "capture" market. You grab your share and then get the government to keep out competitors.


exactly. thank you.


Yup. Good old corruption. Funny fact I learned recently: The US is one of the most corrupt countries in the first world, especially at the state and municipal level.


I tend to agree. Although it's my opinion there is a significant barrier to entry in the US. Corruption is accessible only to those with wealth or influence. In other countries low level corruption is available to the common man.


To people who downvoted op - it's absolutely corruption.

Comcast lobbies the government, sues competitors and hogs taxpayer money to remain in power.


In my home town, Comcast actually FINALLY got the approval to buy up a cable provider's lines a couple of years ago. The old cable provider only provided television. They would also never would expand their lines. I had a friend who's house was built between two others who had TV provided by this company, and they wouldn't run the line to their house.

In my town and I'm assuming most, whoever laid the lines, gets the monopoly. Maybe Comcast could have gone around and buried new lines, but it would have been too cost prohibitive, so they waited for this company to finally die (people would switch to DirectTV and AT&T DSL), and now everyone in town can get actual high speed internet and television.

This is the biggest problem I have with cable companies, they go into a town, lock it up, and don't innovate.

But I also understand wanting to protect your investment of 10s-100s of millions of dollars in a town, expecting to earn it back over 30+ years.


Me, I'm rooting for 5G broadband. Verizon started the rollout already, T-Mobile can't be far behind. If AT&T joins the fray Comcast will get the bill for all the negative goodwill they were snowplowing on their way to profits.

https://www.verizonwireless.com/5g/home/

https://www.fiercewireless.com/5g/new-t-mobile-s-plans-for-h...


5G is a red herring, as 4G would be sufficient. Before Westfield's fiber rollout, I drove around town mapping cell towers hoping to use LTE for home Internet. IMHO they're not really dense enough for such use, especially without directional antennas. Never mind the latency.

Also, Verizon is really the only provider that extends into the more rural areas listed, and I doubt they would want to cut into their mobile profits with the rates required to compete with wired access.


A few things I don't get (genuinely, I wish someone would explain to me):

1. Why would the town pay Comcast for Comcast to wire up the town, when Comcast would then turn around and charge residents? It seems like if Comcast wants to provide customers, they should make the investment, no?

2. If Verizon DSL is in town, how is there a monopoly? Would Comcast wiring the town prevent another provider from also wiring the town (in whole or in part)?


> 1. Why would the town pay Comcast for Comcast to wire up the town, when Comcast would then turn around and charge residents? It seems like if Comcast wants to provide customers, they should make the investment, no?

A franchise agreement typically involves Comcast paying the municipality. 5% of gross revenues is standard.[1]

> 2. If Verizon DSL is in town, how is there a monopoly? Would Comcast wiring the town prevent another provider from also wiring the town (in whole or in part)?

No. Exclusive franchises are illegal under federal law. However, most municipalities do not have ISPs clamoring to build. For example, there was a lot of press coverage when Baltimore renewed its "exclusive" franchise with Comcast.[2] Of course it's not exclusive--it's just that nobody else has ever asked to build a network in Baltimore:

> “We’ve, in fact, asked other cable operators if they’re interested in coming into the city and, so far, nobody else is,” says Minda Goldberg, a chief solicitor in the city’s Law Department.

[1] E.g. the county where I live: https://www.aacounty.org/departments/oit/forms-and-publicati... (Section 6.1).

[2] http://www.wypr.org/post/why-comcast-one-and-only-cable-and-...


> If Verizon DSL is in town,

apples and oranges. Sure technically they are both provide "internet", but this day in age DSL speeds are just plain unacceptable. You might as well make the argument that residents don't have to go with Comcast, they can get AOL.


Over a decade ago I worked on software sold to Cable companies. So I had set up a small cable transmission center, and I had followed with interest the cities providing cable. In short, they were doing a great job providing lots of channels at a tiny fraction of the cost - and often free internet too. And some even funded multiple government programs with high end packages at half the cost of Comcast.

So I approached my town and offered to travel the US (on my dime) and interview those who had set up cable, to write a report so that my town could use best practices (including how to fight off the cable companies as they try to elect different officials - a standard strategy.) But my town was completely uninterested. It turned out that Comcast had paid money to fund a city department, and that same group made cable related decisions. So they didn't want to rock the boat that was paying them good salaries (to people with absolutely no skills beyond knowing somebody who got them the job.)


>>About 160 residents voted, with 56 percent rejecting the Comcast offer, according to news reports.

If it's done it needs to be done by, say, million+ cities. Where is this small town going to the money to pay each time someone complains or a cable is cut?


This is a tangent but Charlemont is a nice little town situated at the foot of an Applachian mountain along the very scenic route 2. It's well worth driving up and over the mountain (through Florida... the town) into North Adams if you're ever in the area.


I went to college at Williams. We would sometimes drive back from track meets in Boston through Charlemont and Florida, and I always thought there was something cruel about seeing a sign for "Florida" when it was 10 deg (F) outside..

Agreed though, it's a nice drive, and a nice area of the country to visit!


Whatever, there should better be competition. If one ISP (a big corporation or a municipality) does it a way you don't like and you can't switch to another one that's sad.


Hey, local news on HN! I'm glad to see Whip City Fiber is spreading so far up north. They started in Westfield (40k people), and then moved to building out local towns that are basically similar kind of "hilltowns" places that have been neglected by Comcast et al for years.

Westfield Gas and Electric has been Westfield's municipal power company for as long as I can remember, and I've heard few complaints about their management. This is not their first time providing Internet service, as they used to run a dialup ISP back in the day.

The concern about future upgrades is kind of ridiculous in context - the Verizon infrastructure here is still at the bare minimum, with no hope of ever being upgraded. I have no doubt that when the gigabit infrastructure is finally looking outdated and slow, Verizon will be sitting there offering the same "high speed" 3Mbit. That is, if they haven't convinced the feds to allow them to sell the copper for scrap.

The service itself is a lone single mode fiber, with a GPON terminal. Installation planning was done by a WG&E employee who even showed up in a bucket truck. Installation was in two parts - one entire contractor to direct bury a flexible conduit with the length of fiber, and a second contractor to complete installation on both sides of the burial. My speed tests show basically full gigabit up/down.

(Also, comments by new accounts start off dead now?! I made a throwaway because I'd rather not state my explicit location as part of my main profile)




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