Bureaucratic Barriers To Municipal Broadband:
This Citylab story was recently submitted to HN: https://www.citylab.com/life/2019/04/arkansas-internet-munic...
A somewhat related development in Arkansas is electric co-ops, which were started to provide electric service to rural areas, starting telecommunications subsidiaries with rather firm plans to build FTTH over their entire service area. Several of these have been started in the last few years. Arkansas could see some remote rural areas without paved roads or public water get symmetrical gigabit internet before many urban centers.
EDIT: If I'm reading this correctly, then this point is no longer true for CO.
> As of 2018, the state is moving forward with a new bill (HB-1099) that will remove this problem. This bill is expected to pass in the coming months, but is not official at the time of this writing.
Reading the text, it sounds like that was the bill that created the problem in the first place.
I am not being critical, but I suspect it might not be representative of California.
> In 2018, lawmakers passed legislation that removed state restrictions on limiting publicly-owned broadband networks for CSD residents. The new law enables CSDs to create enhanced infrastructure financing districts (EIFDs), which can be used to pay for public broadband infrastructure. The new law also removed the requirement to determine whether a private company would be willing to offer service, and ensures CSDs do not have to lease or sell public broadband infrastructure to private telecom companies that enter into the market.
So prior to 2018, you could build municipal broadband, but you couldn't set up a special taxing district for it, and then they got rid of that restriction in 2018. Should California count in the "26 States?"
The description of some of the other states' restrictions seem copy-and-pasted and do not match the underlying regulations. Look at Wisconsin. The article says that Wisconsin requires municipal broadband providers to include "phantom costs" in their accounting, and prohibits charging less than what incumbents charge.
If you look at the cited section, https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/66/IV/042..., the only requirement seems to be that municipalities must hold a public hearing, must perform a cost-benefit analysis, and reimburse the municipal treasury for the preparation of that analysis from from service revenues. And even that requirement is subject to numerous exceptions. For example, a municipality can construct municipal broadband without even a hearing or a cost-benefit analysis where (1) the municipality offers wholesale infrastructure to companies that directly offer service to end users, and (2) there is not two or more competitors in the municipality already.
That's an extremely reasonable set of requirements for municipal broadband, and in fact 66.0422(3m) basically lays out the "municipality builds the pipes, other companies offer service" model that folks on HN love so much. But this article deems that a "bureaucratic barrier to municipal broadband."
The problem with this sort of reporting is that it’s based on an extremely pro-government/anti-private-sector viewpoint. It doesn’t evaluate the rules on their merits, but assumes that every rule that restricts the municipal government and benefits the private sector must be bad, even if it’s otherwise a good idea. We know that’s not true.
State I'd be less surprised at, they've got quite a few large Comcast offices dotted around Seattle and Everett, and one in Vancouver. Very likely "leaned" on them about municipal broadband rules
My only real option at my new residence is Comcast at $79/mo which went up to $94/mo after 1 year for a hypothetical 100down/5up, with frequent network drops.
It was quite disappointing to find zero options for fiber, and this convinces me that this kind of corruption by ISPs and legislators needs to be severely curbed.
When you look at the gross profit margin for ISPs and cellphone companies, it is frequently > 60%
Being the only game in town really has some tangible benefits.
Generally, I haven't seen private industry do a good job at providing infrastructure over long periods of time.
That said, when I see articles like this one I have to remind myself that the landscape is going to completely change once Starlink and/or OneWeb become active.
I am not that excited about the satellite model.
The LEO satellites are not going to be very big or high powered. The ground terminal is probably going to be a phased-array job that costs $6000 or so. The satellite is going to be a bent pipe to Verizon, AT&T or whatever rent seeker is operating in your neighborhood. If people from NYC who can afford to smoke dollar bills to spite the cable company are using it, they'll interfere with people who don't have a choice 700+ miles away.
The LEO constellations might hark back to the pirate days of satellite when the dish cost $6000 but there was no subscription. Unfortunately the people who are behind them don't realize that normal folks aren't going to have money for an expensive subscription after buying an expensive antenna.
What reports? Verizon’s wireline division reports a 5% operating profit margin in a good year. It’s been 15 years since Verizon started deploying FiOS, and it’s not clear they’ve even recovered the initial capital cost yet. Charter, the biggest pure cable company, reported massive annual losses in the years leading up to the merger with TWC.
The idea that wireline broadband isn’t “highly profitable” doesn’t pass the smell test. Everyone is trying to get out of wireline.
 And that’s what will happen. Municipal broadband will kill any private competitor, because you can’t compete with a tax-subsidized alternative. If that happens, folks better pray that their municipal system doesn’t end up like say the DC Metro or New York Subway (initially good, but neglected in the long term and allowed to decay).
I was shocked by one of the comments saying that the only reason those neighborhoods have utilities like water and sewer now is that they didn’t used to be poor.
Our approach to broadband in poor urban neighborhoods is completely screwed up. We blame the telecom provider for not building in areas it’s not profitable to service, or force them to do it to be allowed to service the city at all (and as a result, nobody gets service).
Broadband access in poor neighborhoods is a matter for the general welfare system and should be paid for with federal and state tax subsidies, just as we do for say schools in poor urban neighborhoods. Then, we can make a reasoned cost-benefit analysis about how to best use that tax money. (For example, maybe wireless is a more cost-effective way of providing a safety-net level of service than fiber.)
They got a pretty good chunk of cash from us to cover much of those costs.
Sure the ISPs profit would likely go down, but it wouldn't go to zero. Just like every other capital intensive business on the planet
You do raise a good point about "viable business", what I was trying to communicate was "a business where both the business and the customer benefit", and as you pointed out, that's not what "viable business" means.
I can only speak from my experience here, and my experience was that the financial constraints on both of the ISPs I worked for were such that many, many compromises had to be made. For example, the ISP in California used consumer-grade hardware, so the ARP tables would fill up after about 48 hours, so we wrote scripts to reboot the routers every 24 hours - this killed all active TCP/IP sessions and stopped service for about a minute. The ISP in Rwanda only had a ~3mbps satellite link, so we set up a transparent proxy to ignore HTTP headers and aggressively cache data to increase the apparent throughput.
These kind of compromises stand in contrast to similar work I did for a community college, where we didn't have to make compromises like that.
To give you an idea, I was working on a cell site upgrade project in from 2013-2015 - it took the City of Seattle two years to approve permits to do a simple no civil upgrade (swap equipment, move some above ground conduit), whereas in a more rural area, we had that same permit in 2-45 days depending on jurisdiction.
Related, I work for a large, publicly-traded American software company and I'm constantly amazed/frustrated by the internet connection in our office. We constantly deal with connectivity issues and bandwidth restrictions, all while the executive leadership cuts back on working from home/remotely. A multi-billion dollar software company literally cannot buy consistent internet access.
The bottom line is that we're completely at the mercy of Time Warner Cable/Spectrum, and no amount of cajoling/threatening/pleading seems to improve our internet service.
We're kidding ourselves as a society if we truly think that the established private entities that rule the internet infrastructure are our best shot at a faster, more reliable internet.
As a general rule, most ISPs stink, but they still are businesses. It seems strange for them to literally refuse your money. Is your office in some remote location or is there some legal restriction that prevents one of these companies from doing the work at any price?
I pay 40€ a month for a gigabit connection to my flat in 18th-19th century built neighbourhood. 25€ for unlimited 400 Mbit/s to my phone. Actual speeds match what is promised.
You pay that much to get guaranteed throughout and bandwidth at the max whenever. Guaranteed with an SLA.
Your residential broadband is contented, you share a pipe with multiple households.
Like with GPON passive optical, your connection to the exchange point may be shared with 32 homes and is a 2.5 Gbps downstream and 1.25 Gbps link.
> As we’ve reported on in the past, Kansas City has rolled out the digital red carpet for Google: giving rights of way, prime office space, expedited permitting, fee waivers, and more. In a notable example, the city charged only $10 per pole for Google to string its cable on municipal utility poles—as opposed to the usual $18.95 per pole rate. But now, local incumbents Time Warner Cable and AT&T want to feel the love, too.
It wouldn’t be fair to accuse Google if “buying” anything—it’s modus operandi was to approach second tier cities in low-cost states that would see fiber as a differentiating factor to help boost their economy. (That’s why they refused to deal with Boston, SF, or NYC.) Then Google gave them extremely aggressive terms, such as waiver of build-out requirements (the obligation to serve the whole city, even unprofitable areas) that are otherwise universal in such deals. And Google still couldn’t make the numbers work!
Look at what they did in other markets.
The sad truth is that this was a "project" for them. If wasn't a part of their future strategy so they bailed and left everyone else to pick up the pieces.
All of the investment here is upfront. Ie. Laying down infrastructure and these cable companies hold greater political influence on the current government, one place where IT companies are particularly weak.
It just doesn't make sense. There are easier and higher ROI problems that they would rather solve.
In the NYT article detailing why it costs NYC 7x as much money per mile to build subway than other countries, leaders of subway projects in London and Paris pointed out how inefficient MTA projects are compared to theirs. Why would you expect government run broadband in the US to be better when our other government run services are so much worse?
Here in Maryland, our Comcast/Verizon duopoly is working pretty well. 60% of households have access to fiber. Most of the rest have access to gigabit cable, which in a few years will be symmetric gigabit. (I’ve got fiber from both Comcast and Verizon into my house.) Prices are comparable to Sweden or Switzerland for gigabit (places that also have high labor costs and don’t subsidize their fiber.) Municipal fiber fills the gap in rural areas.
The one gap is Baltimore, where Verizon doesn’t have FiOS. Should Baltimore build a municipal fiber network? I don’t think so. Baltimore recently celebrated hitting 75% on-time performance on their subway. MARC had 75% on-time performance this summer. My Metro commute is slower and less reliable than it would’ve been in 1985. They literally had to slow down the trains and run them less often because they botched the maintenance so bad. (And these are well-funded systems. We’re a heavily urbanized blue state.) Why on earth would I want to put those same people in charge of my broadband?
Where I am in rural southern Missouri, I've got very few choices.
1. Mediacom - horrible customer service, decent speed when it works but sometimes unreliable. Data caps on all accounts.
2. Centurylink DSL - horribly slow and horribly small data caps.
3. TotalHighspeed - 3 megabits for $75/month via Wifi dish.
4. Verizon LTE - ~$100 for a 15 gigabyte per month data cap, then it's throttled to ~600kbit/s once 15 gigs is used.
Note that the only one that doesn't have explicit data caps and multi-year contracts is the tiny WISP with extremely slow service. Verizon and Mediacom both have 2 year contracts with cancellation fees. Centurylink has data caps so small that it isn't even worth considering. Most of these options are only available inside city limits, if you live far out of town your only option is Verizon or a Satellite provider with outrageous latency and data caps.
Government might not always do a good job providing service but I'd love to see literally any new competition enter the market.
She paid ~$2000 for the installation. But then, interestingly, the company that owns the actual cables pay her rent for running the cables through her land and on to the next farm.
The company that handle the installation and maintenance of the infrastructure does not provide internet access themselves. Rather, the first thing that happened when she opened her browser was that she got to pick an ISP from a list of about 20-40 choices.
The speeds on offer ranges between 100mb to 10gb.
(I guided her to pick Bahnhof, who has an excellent record for protecting customer data and being critical against surveillance)
Only 2 providers, especially in a heavily urbanized area, is not that many. How do your rates compare to other countries?
> our other government run services are so much worse?
Surely the answer is to improve the quality of government run services then, instead of accepting that the US is somehow intrinsically bad at providing them. In many cases, it's also a self-fulfilling prophecy: government services suck, so let's underfund/have low expectations of them, now they really do suck. For many functions government services are the only game in town, so it's in everyone's interest to have them be as efficient as possible.
Gigabit fiber (1000/1000) from Verizon is about $80-90 per month (not a promo rate). With basic TV maybe $110. According to the Internet, the non-promo rate for 1000/300+TV from Orange in France is 48 euros per month, or $54. Equivalent to $90 here in MD.
In the UK, Hyperoptic is well regarded. It’s 60 pounds per month after the promo period for gigabit, or $80. That is about the same nominal cost, but in reality less affordable for your average UK person, given that Maryland’s per capita GDP is 50% higher than the UK’s.
What did jogjayr say that people find not contribute to the discussion? I believe they are right on point - why not make our government better? You can say it is inefficient and still want to make it better. Other governments somehow do a good job, as we can see with public infrastructure in Germany et al. Is it really a reasonable perspective to say "the US government has failed in the past, therefore it will always fail?" I don't think it is reasonable to make a claim like that in a country where "government" is a word that refers to a federal executive branch that refreshes every 4-8 years, two houses of federal legislative branches that cycle every 2 years, a federal judicial branch, a state level executive, legislative, and judicial branch, a county level judicial branch, a city level executive and legislative branch, and then elected bureaucratic offices at an even more granular local level.
To me, it seems obvious that these positions could be filled with competent people, they certainly have been in the past and they can be in the future. There is no "government" homogeneous entity in America and thus there's no way to unequivocally say "the guvmint of the USA is bad at infrastructure."
It’s not a helpful point. The government (at least in a democracy) is a reflection of the people and their culture. Even to put it charitably, we’re a culture that puts many other things ahead of infrastructure. In France to build a train line, the government does a study, passes a law that preempts all other laws, and then the thing gets built. Here, any project is tied up in years of litigation before it can move forward.
Why is our metro service so bad? The WMATA union is completely broken. They had track inspectors falsify reports. Management fired them, the union sued, and they were hired back. But you can’t take on the WMATA union because then you’re a capitalist pig and now you’re mired in a larger national debate about unions versus right-to-work.
Or compare how Stockholm did fiber deployment. The municipal entity built out over more than a decade, wiring up profitable neighborhoods first in a demand driven way. Here, if you tried that it would explode in a shit show about “digital redlining.” (Which is not to minimize that problem—just pointing out that the legacy of actual redlining in America makes it politically impossible for us to adopt a policy that worked very well in Sweden.)
You can’t fix all that. And if you can’t fix it, there is a good reason to keep the government away from markets that are at least kinda working.
Comcast and ATT have as disgusting a history with our infrastructure as the government. Throwing our arms up in the air with "the government can't do it" while simultaneously saying "oh well I guess trust profit driven companies with our data transmission" doesn't sound at all sustainable to me.
"You can't fix all that," so I guess I'll die? I'm not going to roll over and let Comcast have its way with me.
Except that’s not true, right? Comcast’s top speed has gone from 12-20 mbps in 2008 (last time I had Comcast service in Atlanta) to 1 gbps today. That involved a ton of investment—each new versions of DOCSIS require you to split nodes and move fiber closer to each subscriber to hit the required performance on the analog side. Over that time period, Comcast cable has improved way faster than almost every other aspect of computing besides iPhones. My MacBook from then (2 GHz Core 2 Duo) would still make a pretty serviceable machine. But I’d be pretty salty about a 20 mbps internet connection. (And stuff like Facebook, Gmail, and Google Search arguably have regressed, rather than improved, over that time period.)
Over that exact same time period, Metro had to disable driverless train operation, which was built into the system when it opened in the 1970s, because it had let the signaling equipment deteriorate too much for it to be reliable. They had to decrease train spacing from 6 minutes to 8 minutes, and increase the scheduled time between stops because track conditions (and human drivers) didn’t permit maintaining the more aggressive schedule.
From my point of view, I’m looking for ways to have Comcast take over Metro, not have WMATA take over my broadband.
Comcast blocked peer to peer. ATT blocked Skype and Google Voice. MetroPCS tried to block everyone but YouTube.
Great, you found a time a local government did a stupid. One local government, one instance. I can provide for you a storied history of big Telecom's attempts to wrestle control over a consumer's choices. Again, and again, and again, they try to take from us. We have no say in any of their decisions - we can't even vote with our wallets because they have functional monopolies. At least we can elect our government representatives. At least portions of the government support net neutrality (when literally no Telecom company actually does in practice).
The WMATA example is not “one instance.” I use it as an example just because it’s local to me. (You want to hear about my water service? It cost $30,000 for the city to hook us up to public water/sewer in 2015. We just had the chlorine levels tested and they’re squarely in the middle of the range for pool water.). And frankly Maryland is a wealthy blue state, with better public services than say Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, or Georgia, other places I’ve lived.
Transit is also an example of infrastructure that, like broadband, requires expensive maintenance and continual upgrades to handle increased demand. The NYC MTA is also in dire straits. When there’s only a handful of cities in the US with “real” subway systems to begin with, the #1 and #3 systems being in a state of emergency is a pretty significant data point.
But the problem isn’t unique to subway systems. US infrastructure, which is almost entirely managed by state and local governments, is a disaster across the board: https://www.infrastructurereportcard.org (American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card giving US infrastructure a D+). Whether you’re talking about lead water pipes poisoning kids in Chicago, civil war era sewer systems dumping raw sewage into the Potomac, Baltimore’s subway that celebrates 75% on time performance, California HSR that ran out of money after construction barely started, etc., American state and local governments prove time and again that they cannot be trusted with infrastructure.
>Speed is the number one most important thing for broadband service
Safety and security take precedence over speed, for me. I don't trust corporate entities that I have no decision making power over with my data, especially because they have already demonstrated what their goal is - extract maximum capital from me by any and all means necessary.
Also, it seems relatively hard to abuse electricity as it's billed by unit but I'm guessing you'd expect municipal broadband to somehow be unlimited access and still let everyone who wants to torrent movies all day long? Will there be a push for government to prevent undesirable content (ie, porn) from being transmitted on public networks?
I'm not saying the system there today is good. The monopolies Time Warner / Spectrum have need to be fixed but it doesn't seem that municipal broadband is a better solution.
Oh come on. If you are a billion dollar software company the solution is simple: order dark fiber to your offices and hire a dozen of network engineers to cover the entire US. Problem solved. If you only have a few locations, you would need only a couple of network engineers.
It effectively does, under enough competitive pressure. Incentives are stacked in such a way that for any attempt at coordination, it's profitable to be the one to defect. In fact, a big (if not the main) job of regulations is to enforce cooperation in situations where market guides people to defect.
As for my "initially" remark, a collective of thousands is way too big to remain flat. I'd expect it to grow at least 2 layers of internal governance, at which point the "cooperate/defect" mechanism will start applying to people at one level trying to work together under rules set by the level above.
(Except maybe in New York City where a city councilperson from Queens insisted that Off-Track Betting get a bailout to "save jobs" and where some other politicians will block cannabis legalization unless black people get the profits from it... it's not enough to take away an reason for mass incarceration...)
So how many more decades do you think that US's Health Insurance Industry needs be protected from government competition?
Here is a story about government granted monopolies using their influence to manipulate government entities to impede the activities of other government entities.
What "capitalism" are you asking about?
"Capitalism" isn't a generic umbrella word for all the things in the world you don't like.
As far as using Capitalism as a generic umbrella term, I don't think that is necessarily the case here. A government in a capitalistic country is expected to operate this way; lobbying and campaign finance being the only true democratic levers in the society.
Widespread belief in principles like private property rights and contract liberty can act as a moat to prevent things like regulatory capture.
I think most of the cycles we see here are due to the mental gymnastics performed to indict capitalism for the fall of every sparrow.
Unlimited Campaign Contributions and Lobbying are by very definition buying political influence (i.e. pay money to make politicians do what you want), which is the definition of corruption, and clearly is not how a democracy is supposed to function.
In a functioning Democracy citizens vote in politicians who share their views, so leaders are chosen based on what people want. When money comes into it, the whole thing gets screwed up. i.e. Comcast just pays millions (billions?) to make sure the politician in power votes for blocking community broadband. Even if the citizens vote out that leader and vote in a new one, Comcast will just pay the new person.
Thus it's corporate money that makes laws, not citizens through voting.
 After spending three years in 35 different countries in Africa, I've come to learn the developed world is just as corrupt as many African nations, we're just adverse to using that word because it sounds so dirty and uncivilized. I think it's important to call a thing what it is, lest we succumb to newspeak, so I call out corruption when I see it. Just because it's legal, it doesn't mean it's not corruption.
There are clear limits on campaign contributions.
What we don't have are limits on private ad spending, which would obviously violate free speech.
Capital being the true democratic mean in the world's most capitalistic country is not surprising or incorrect. It's intentional.
Operating according to the current interpretation of the US constitution. The intentions of its writers are another matter entirely.
I pay a politician money, and he does what I want.
That is the very definition of bribery and corruption. Just because the people that stand to gain the most from it decided to make it "legal", that doesn't change what it actually is. Call it "legal corruption" if you like.
> Capital being the true democratic mean in the world's most capitalistic country is not surprising or incorrect.
Of course, there is only one democracy on the planet where that's true. How does that country stack up against all the other OECD countries in terms of quality of life for the average Joe citizen?
No you are kidding yourself if you think America is fair capitalism. It's closer to crony capitalism or welfare for the rich/private businesses
- By letting stock prices fall for stagnation and mistakes
- By not making regulations such as the one posted, allowing competition to thrive
- By putting in penalties on executives who presided over fraud, environment damage and harm
- By banning lobbying completely
Do you really really really think that a bunch of billionaires will self correct themselves?
If we value free speech a truly as we claim to as a nation, we should all be clamoring for municipal broadband infrastructure.
The two are significantly different things.
(I'm not a member - applied and considering it... for work, I need high speed and low latency... thoughts welcome!)
Not at all. The federal government and state governments are separate sovereigns. Municipal governments are mere appendages of the state governments (and at the end of the day, the state governments are on the hook for anything bad that happens as a result of municipal decisions, e.g. Flint Michigan.)
>In Tennessee, for example, state laws allow publicly-owned electric utilities to provide broadband
I think this is the best way to solve last mile distribution. Electric companies already have the capacity to manage door to door to installations. Internet could become an additional source of revenue for them. They could lease the line from big providers and increase their reach. Win Win.
States should forbid cities from funding the creation of sports stadiums then. They're almost always disastrous.
(Of course that would run contrary to corporate interests, so don't hold your breath. It's clear who these states are trying to protect, and it isn't the cities.)
I wish anyone I knew outside of tech circles cared even 1% as much... but I've given up trying to point out all the instances of corporations fucking over the public.
Municipal broadband makes no sense if people think we need solutions like DNS over SSL.
Do not give your local government this amount of access to your behavior. If Facebook is bad for privacy, muni-broadband would be a disaster.
Maybe they could lease dark fiber similarly, but that may not be necessary with basic standards like those used for utility pole access in a decently well run town or city.
Broadband projects are big infrastructure projects. Municipalities are state organs, and at the end of the day, the state is on the hook if the municipality gets in over its head. (The states are also up to their eyeballs in debt and many have no hope of paying it off.) There is a real risk that municipalities will build a system and realize that they can't maintain and upgrade it in the long term.
Look at it from a different perspective. In 24 states, including some of the largest ones, there are no restrictions on municipal broad. Nothing is stopping, for example, Baltimore, from building a municipal broadband network. (And indeed, there are quite a few in rural Maryland). Why don't they do it? Because it's not easy, and it's not cheap.
Of course, there are plenty of decent counter-arguments, and counter-counter-arguments. This is just one of those tensions that exists and is fundamentally irresolvable in any capitalist democracy.
My father loves to wax poetic about the CWA and WPA during the Great Depression (though they ended before he was born, so he loves the idea more than any actual experience) - his conservative heart loves the idea that if people were struggling, they could get the care they needed as long as they work for it. He doesn't believe me when I respond to his "why don't we do that?" by pointing out that modern conservatives in govt (and many beyond) would have a coronary at the idea of having publicly funded competition to businesses that would otherwise do the work in question.
End result: He's sure there's a better way but he'll support the officials that would prevent that better way. To be fair, the progressives I support have their own list of complaints with such enforced-work-for-aid programs, but I'm not the one asking for them.
Right, when regulation of market is prevented by vested commercial interests, the government (or the community) needs to step in
America is more corrupt than one thinks
So very frustrating. lobbying pisses me off and now i am just venting.
But would it be? I've used various of the major cable internet providers over the years and I can always get all the speed I want for $80 per month or less.
Or is this mostly about internet access for the poor, tax-funded?
A little older now, but:
2GB for $25/mo with AT&T, $10/GB overage.
$30/mo for 2GB, with $15/GB overage.
Data prices do seem to have gotten better:
where they reduced the plan from $80 to $65 for voice+2GB data.
Indeed, last year to go from 2GB to 5GB cost $20, and now costs $25.
From the CBS article, "With that plan and voice service, a smart phone could cost as little as $55 per month before taxes and add-on fees, down from $70 per month."
According to AT&T's planner, that means in SIX YEARS, costs haven't changed at all, overall.