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26 States Now Ban or Restrict Community Broadband (vice.com)
493 points by grecy 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 147 comments



Here is the full list from the original study:

Bureaucratic Barriers To Municipal Broadband:

  Michigan 
  North Carolina 
  South Carolina 
  Tennessee 
  Virginia 
  Utah 
  Wisconsin 
  Montana 
  
Direct Sale Prohibitions On Municipal Broadband:

  Arkansas 
  Missouri 
  Nebraska 
  Pennsylvania 
  Texas 
  Washington 
  
Prohibitive Referendum Requirements On Municipal Broadband:

  Alabama 
  Colorado 
  Louisiana 
  Minnesota 
  Iowa 
  
Population Caps On Service Areas For Municipal Broadband Networks:

  Nevada 
  
Excessive Taxes On Municipal Broadband Services:

  Florida 
  
Other Tactics Used To Roadblock Municipal Broadband:

  California 
  Wyoming 
  Oregon 
  Massachusetts 
  Connecticut

(this was really annoying to format with HN's terrible formatting rules)


In February, Arkansas eased restrictions on municipal broadband. I had a quick look at the text of the bill, and it appears that municipalities must get grant funding as opposed to issuing bonds or using general funds.

http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2019/2019R/Pages/Bill...

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.


Electrical coops are a good solution and in many cases, there are such organizations other than the incumbents who are better suited than the city to build and run operations. I’ve been in the fiber business for a long time (though never for an incumbent). There have been numerous times in my experience where cities and incumbents have such a poor relationship that managers within the cities start to convince themselves it can’t be that hard - we are just talking a few miles of fiber. And yet for every misinformed city manager who thinks they can do it all, there’s one who seems to be able to make fiber work. I guess if I were at the state level, would I want cities to just run around deploying tax dollars Standing up telco operations when we have generally decided in the US that telecom is a private enterprise? Cities tend to make short term decisions that aren’t always the best - take for example the reluctance of cities to share resources with adjacent cities (fire, police, schools). That said whenever a hole is dug I don’t think it would hurt to drop fiber in it. Having reasonable incentives for civil and private works projects to be dual purpose would help to propagate fiber. In combination with reasonable rules for access and build backs this would generally help the situation.


As someone who voted for https://bouldercolorado.gov/connect-boulder/boulder-broadban..., I'm curious what the implications of Colorado's "Prohibitive Referendum Requirements" are?

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.

https://broadbandnow.com/report/municipal-broadband-roadbloc...


I'm in Centennial Colorado - Several years ago we voted to allow commercial companies to lease the city's fiber. As a result, I now have symmetric gigabit fiber from a company named Ting running into the house for around $89 a month.


Sonic in the Bay Area has symmetric gigabit fiber for $60/mo!!!


Also Fort Collins CO - they recently (last year?) passed city approval to roll out municipal broadband. it is actively laying fiber now and expected to be live by start of 2020 or earlier. Gigabit speeds. It would be great if Boulder were next to get this. Comcast fought VERY hard to prevent it...


Believe it or not, Estes Park is also working hard to get approval for municipal broadband.


We’re right down the way in Pinewood Springs and can only dream that the fiber will get laid along 36 so that we can get in on the action, too!


AFAIK, they're already laying the lines along highway 7. As of last year, I no longer live in the area, but you may be able to find out more through the Estes Park EDC.


This is the text of the final bill: https://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/2018a_1099_sign...

Reading the text, it sounds like that was the bill that created the problem in the first place.


There's gigabit municipal fiber in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Pretty cool. Mediacom exists there, but only like... apartments use them.


We got gigabit fiber in Berkeley last year - so nice! - so the California restrictions must not be too restrictive.


Berkeley is an outlier, even in comparison to outliers.


How so?


Lists of Liberal vs Conservative cities in the US always put Berkeley at or near the top of the Liberal list.

I am not being critical, but I suspect it might not be representative of California.


Yea but what does that have to do with broadband?


I would take this article with a big grain of salt. It uses "26 states" as a headline figure, but seems to categorize any sort of regulation on the process by which municipal entities deploy broadband as an improper "restriction." For example, look at California: > California state laws do not prohibit municipalities from offering broadband service, but up until to 2018 they did prevent “community service districts” (CSDs) from offering broadband unless there was no private company willing to offer service in the area. CSDs are independent local governments formed by residents of rural and unincorporated areas. CSDs were also forced to lease or sell their broadband infrastructure to any private telecom company that enters the market.

> 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.


Is that Washington D.C or Washington State?

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


Wow, for once I get to be happy about a decision my state's government made.


A year ago I moved from Chattanooga, TN (mentioned in the article) to Bellevue, Wa to work in “Cloud City” Seattle to take a job at AWS. It used to cost me a total $59/mo for 100MB fiber up and down, no contract, with _amazing_ customer service (I seriously have stories to tell about how great EPB is).

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.


I had a friend who worked for a cable company (several decades ago). He would tell me that for cable customers, frequently the cost of infrastructure was recovered during the install, if not within the first month or two.

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.


I've worked for two ISPs during my career. One in California and another in Rwanda. Those experiences have convinced me that providing internet service just isn't a viable business: the margins are too thin, or non-existent.

Generally, I haven't seen private industry do a good job at providing infrastructure over long periods of time.

(edit)

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.


Most reports are that major ISPs are highly profitable. Undercapitalized local ISPs always seem to struggle, however -- as do companies like Google when they aren't serious.

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.


> Most reports are that major ISPs are highly profitable. Undercapitalized local ISPs always seem to struggle, however -- as do companies like Google when they aren't serious.

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.


If they were trying so hard to get out of wireline, then why are trying to keep governments out of it?


For the most part they’re really not. See my comment above—the article really blows the restrictions in many states out of proportion. That aside, nobody wants the government coming in and using tax dollars to drive them out of business,[1] even if the business is a low-margin one they’re looking to get out of.

[1] 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).


What alternative does a community like Cleveland [2] have to municipal broadband?

[2] https://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2017/03/att-a...

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.


Let me turn that question around: how can a community like Cleveland afford to run a municipal broadband network, if the reason AT&T won’t expand service there is that people don’t have the money to pay?

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.)


You might be interested in the story of Dennis Kucinich and Muny Light. Years later, it actually did turn out to be the right choice (and I’m no Kucinich fan). Maybe something similar could be done with wireless and the utility poles.


> It’s been 15 years since Verizon started deploying FiOS, and it’s not clear they’ve even recovered the initial capital cost yet.

They got a pretty good chunk of cash from us to cover much of those costs.


They did not. If you dig into reports about “subsidies” to Bell Atlantic (Verizon’s predecessor), you’ll see that the “cash” is actually “excess rates” resulting from telecom deregulation. There is no economic substance to the argument, it’s based on the idea that the rates and profits of Bell Atlantic should have been the same during the period when broadband demand was exploding as it was during the period when a phone line was just a phone line. (Then you call any difference between the two a “subsidy”).


How are they not viable businesses? Even if you remove the legal barriers there is a high cost to starting an ISP with the amount of physical capital that needs to be set up. Its not like its some business where a competitor can spin up on a whim and you're forced to deal with incredible amounts of competition.

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


Neither of the ISPs that I worked for had legal barriers that I noticed (especially in Rwanda), the barriers that I did notice were physical capital, as you mention.

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.


Personally I think that as soon as one of the promised satellite constellations becomes real enough to compete with Comcast/Time Warner/etc, we'll see new legislative barriers (bought and paid for) come into play.


I realize this is an unpopular opinion, The problem isn't just ISP's - the only reason community broadband in an urban environment sounds like a good idea, is because it can go around the permitting process. The permitting process to install shit is why any tom, dick and harry can't get themselves set up as a telco - yes, the big three/four/five as sleazy and slimy, but local government has made it almost impossible to compete with them either.

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.


This is so gross.

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 someone who has been tangentially involved in this process in the past, what you describe seems super weird to me. Getting upgrades to business internet access is shockingly expensive when you are accustomed to purchasing consumer internet, but there has always been multiple companies willing to lay new cable for us at a price that is well within the budget of a multi-billion dollar company.

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?


Indeed. I have never had a problem getting commercial gigabit fiber pulled when the business was willing to spend $20k-$50k up front and a few thousand a month. And at enterprise scale, those costs are minimal.


Am I misunderstanding American internet service completely, or is this as obscene as it sounds?

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.


No. Your connection is not a business broadband connection.

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.


You don't have a gigabit connection, your building does. You split the cost and bandwidth with all other residents.


An awful thing you will find is that the vc funded folks, google, and "big tech" are not on our side. Somehow they think it is cool for China to break the neoliberal consensus and invest in infrastructure, but no way should there be competition for better internet or better airplanes here.


Didn't Google try to disrupt the market with Fiber ?


Considering the discrepancy between the resources available to Google and the results achieved, I think it's safe to say that was a half-hearted attempt at most. There is part of me that thinks the whole thing was a PR stunt.


I would say "cherry-pick" rather than "disrupt." They thought they could pick out a handful of the most profitable markets, then only deploy to those. Sadly, they failed to do even that.


If a billion-dollar company gives up after rolling out in that few cities, they weren't really trying. Hard to know what their goals were initially since it seems like it wasn't actually market disruption.


I think they did create the "level set" that gigabit speeds were possible. In the short term they may have spurred more competition, but in the long term they've simply caused despair in everyone except for the incumbent ISPs.


To be fair, Google is having attention span deficit in many departments.. their apps are being constantly shelved-off too. They're operating all side projects in a move fast manner.


I interpreted that failure as Google being powerless against big ISPs.


It's really hard for me to believe that a company with a billion dollars couldn't buy their way to favorable laws. Everyone else does it.


Google negotiated extremely favorable terms with Fiber cities, much more favorable than the terms the incumbents received: https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2012/10/time-warner-att-....

> 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!


I really doubt a multi million dollar company like google could be put off if they really tried.

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.


I feel like big tech has realized that it is not a war worth fighting.

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.


Gobermint run internet would be worse than Comcast and ATT in USA.


What do you base that on?


The US is in the top 10 for global broadband speeds, according to Ookla and Akamai data. We’re not in the top 10 for any sort of government infrastructure (trains, roads, etc). Compare the US to say Germany or Sweden, and the only area of infrastructure where we can hold a candle is broadband.

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?


In rural areas it's quite a bit different.

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.


My mother (who lives in Sweden) had fiber installed in her house (on a farm, far away from the nearest city and at least a 20 minute drive to the nearest village).

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)


> Here in Maryland, our Comcast/Verizon duopoly is working pretty well. 60% of households have access to fiber.

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.


You have to put the number in context. Maryland’s GDP per capita is 60% higher than France’s. Labor costs make up lion’s share of broadband deployment and maintenance, and those costs are very high here.

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.


It seems unfair to compare Maryland, a relatively wealthy state, to all of France, a nation with regional economic disparities. The Île-de-France region has a per-capita GDP about $10k higher than Maryland - but the price of internet service isn't correspondingly higher, that I can find.


Maryland ranges from quite wealthy near DC to quite poor in Baltimore, and very rural in much of the state. (It’s also more populous than Denmark or Norway, which gets compared to France all the time.) This data is a bit old, but it shows the Washington metro area (I think the fairest comparison to Paris) having a 50% higher GDP per capita than the Paris metro area: http://www.demographia.com/db-gdp-metro.pdf. Paris is comparable in income to second-tier US cities, like Cleveland.


And yet, $54/month won't buy you gigabit Internet in Cleveland (if that's the Paris-equivalent US city we're going with). Spectrum charges $70/month for a measly 100 Mbps (after the 1st year's promotional price. Just so we're comparing the apples to apples, Orange in Paris is EUR 22/month for the first year, then EUR 48/month afterward)


I wonder how the internet was in the banlieues until that guy started Free


Remarkable that this is being downvoted. It's a great illustration of the strong vs weak government debates.

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."


> 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?

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.


>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.


> Comcast and ATT have as disgusting a history with our infrastructure as the government

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.


I don't measure infrastructure by speed alone. So what they increased broadband speed. The Spaniards brought guns to the native Americans, then shot them. Doesn't make sense as a "thus it is good" argument.

https://www.freepress.net/our-response/expert-analysis/expla...

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).


Speed is the number one most important thing for broadband service, and it’s also the thing that requires lots of capital investment to provide. So massive investment and dramatically increasing speeds is a critical sign of a functioning broadband market in the US. (What you see in public infrastructure in the US is the opposite. Lack of investment leading to decay, and not only an inability to keep up with growing demand, but an inability to even maintain previous levels of service.)

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.


We are at an impasse.

>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.


Why do you believe governments will do a better job? Seeing how well the SF government is at doing anything? Or the state of NYC public transit. Even worse, unlike say roads which probably last 15-20 years, tech will be obsolete in 5 and you expect the government to some how keep paying for upgrades?

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.


> A multi-billion dollar software company literally cannot buy consistent internet access.

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.


Reading the above list made me feel genuinely queasy. I'm no stranger to the warped side of politics, but this is really just ugly from a "balance of public and private interest in governance" standpoint.


[flagged]


A lot of us think so. Assuming that uncoordinated market forces and powerful people seeking profit is the best way to care for human happiness comes off as absurd to a lot of people. I’m all for markets most of the time, but some good old fashioned coordination and cooperation seems lacking from bare capitalism. Luckily capitalism doesn’t prevent cooperation, we just need to get it in our heads to actually do it.


> Luckily capitalism doesn’t prevent cooperation, we just need to get it in our heads to actually do it.

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.


I don’t like using the government for these problems. I think private collectives could be very powerful here. If you have a collective of a few thousand members cooperating with another collective, the members would have to all choose profit over cooperation to defect. Our normal corporate structure with a tiny board of directors creates perverse incentives for the board to profit greatly at everyone else’s expense. Collectives can be designed without a board of directors, or the board can be better held accountable to the members. That means collectives are less likely to choose profit over public interest, because the voting members are the public much more so than the few members of some corporate board.


The people within the collective may not - initially - choose to defect against the collective, but if the collective is in competition with other collectives, it'll likely find itself defecting against them (with reciprocity). Cooperate/defect applies recursively at all levels of social structure - from individuals to countries.

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.


The question is why does capitalism need to be protected from government run alternatives if it's so super duper?


You can’t “compete” in any meaningful sense of the word with a service that doesn’t need to run a profit because it’s taxpayer subsidized. To provide an example: many Asian cities have profitable private subway systems. Why can’t we have that in Washington DC? Because taxpayers pay $0.50 of every dollar it costs to run the Metro, and it’s impossible for a private company to compete with that.


I think there are some countries in which people are too quick to socialize things but that's not the case here.

(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...)


> I think there are some countries in which people are too quick to socialize things but that's not the case here.

So how many more decades do you think that US's Health Insurance Industry needs be protected from government competition?


Hopefully none. I’m really hoping Bernie can pull this thing off, even if it will be a very difficult fight.


> Then are we kidding ourselves that capitalism is our best shot at a social system?

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.


It's a little cyclical of a thing though, right? Almost paradoxical? You need capital to achieve regulatory capture; regulatory capture guarantees capital. I've always found that term "government granted monopoly" a little dishonest and overused. The institution had enough capital to buy its protection; if the institution lost its power (capital), it would lose footing on its monopoly as well.

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.


You can't eliminate disparities in influence, or competitive self-serving behaviour by attacking people's ability to accumulate private capital. The Soviet Union had very little private capital, yet was extremely corrupt for that reason.


That's true, but it's also important to remember that there is no such thing as free market, or a market disconnected from government. Trying to make regulations work in your favour is just another thing market players do, not different in principle from opening new shops or spending money on advertising.


Cultural attitudes toward the free market can make a big difference. At the turn of the 20th century, during the Lochner Era, the Supreme Court upheld contract liberty and prevented numerous attempts by governments to undermine it. That never could have happened without the political attitudes that existed at that time.

Widespread belief in principles like private property rights and contract liberty can act as a moat to prevent things like regulatory capture.


> It's a little cyclical of a thing though, right?

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.


There is no indignation towards capitalism in my comment. I am claiming that regulatory capture, lobbying, and campaign finance are the means of democracy in a capitalist Mecca like the US. Disagreeing with that and writing it off as mental gymnastics isn’t much of a rebuttal or conversation.


I don't think capitalism is the main problem point. Denmark, Canada, Australia (and many more examples) all seem to do pretty well while having a Democratic and Capitalist society.

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[1], 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.

[1] 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.


In Canada, the big players were forced into reselling their ISP services to third parties by governmental regulations.


>Unlimited Campaign Contributions

There are clear limits on campaign contributions.

What we don't have are limits on private ad spending, which would obviously violate free speech.


From a US legal perspective on corporate personhood, Capital is free speech. Limits on campaign finance limit a corporate persons' first amendment rights. Lobbying and campaign finance are not corruption. It is legal, systemic, and operating as intended.

Capital being the true democratic mean in the world's most capitalistic country is not surprising or incorrect. It's intentional.


> operating as intended.

Operating according to the current interpretation of the US constitution. The intentions of its writers are another matter entirely.


> Lobbying and campaign finance are not corruption

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?

NTDF9 7 months ago [flagged]

> Then are we kidding ourselves that capitalism is our best shot at a social system?

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


How can you enforce fair capitalism?


- By letting big businesses fail

- 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


It seems to me that the last two points require close government involvement, and that capitalism plus government involvement will inevitably lead to some kind of crony capitalism.


Yes. Government is required but needs to be not influenced by money, by law. Taking money in any form needs to be an arrest-able offense.

Do you really really really think that a bunch of billionaires will self correct themselves?


No, I think the opposite of this: that whenever you have individual people as powerful as billionaires, you have crony capitalism.


Municipal broadband is the only long-term solution to enforcing Net Neutrality, and the only long-term solution to telecom monopolies.

If we value free speech a truly as we claim to as a nation, we should all be clamoring for municipal broadband infrastructure.


You know, I would sell out Net Neutrality in a second if Charter would do what they said they would do, which is build out in New York State. Instead all they do is "fight for the right to not serve customers".


I think these states should turn their municipal water and sewer over to private companies and then in a few years of having their toilet back up into their living room while costing them thousands of dollars maybe they will think broadband in the 21st century is a important utility that should be available to all at an affordable price.


Is community and municipal broadband the same thing? The article says these states have banned community broadband, which I consider to be things like rural areas and islands where farmers/locals took up a collection and invested in a mesh network connected via microwave relay to the net at large. Whereas "municipal" broadband is internet access sponsored by the local city, county, or public utility company.

The two are significantly different things.


NY is not one of those states, and NYC has a mesh network with a $20/mon suggested donation.

map: https://www.nycmesh.net/map

(I'm not a member - applied and considering it... for work, I need high speed and low latency... thoughts welcome!)


Obstacles in both Democratic and Republican states alike. Pretty sad. Also damn hypocritical of the states which regularly complain of Federal overreach to go restricting their own local governments.


> Also damn hypocritical of the states which regularly complain of Federal overreach to go restricting their own local governments.

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.)


Most of them are actually Republican-controlled state legislatures, or were Republican-controlled when the measure passed, even if they frequently vote blue in presidential elections.


One of the things that I find really encouraging is governments letting other industires to become ISP

>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.


Regulating cities so they don't do something stupid is reasonable. Remember muni wi-fi? That ended up being a massive wealth transfer from taxpayers to consultants and vendors of gear that didn't work. After the networks were built cities were left holding the bag and trying to decide whether to continue to operate a system nobody used or throw in the towel and admit they wasted millions.


> Regulating cities so they don't do something stupid is reasonable.

States should forbid cities from funding the creation of sports stadiums then. They're almost always disastrous.

https://news.stanford.edu/2015/07/30/stadium-economics-noll-...

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/11/sport...

(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.)


Sure, cities shouldn't be involved in transferring wealth to billionaire sports team owners either. But I bet if you gave voters a choice of a major league sports team or incrementally faster internet, they'd choose the sports team. You may not like it, but sports are still very popular.


How do Americans square things like this with their insistence that they value freedom of the individual?


My anecdotal impression is that most Americans can't be bothered to think about these topics at all, and if you try to bring them up it's brushed off with a "I can't be bothered to think about anything that isn't day to day getting by".

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.


Ask 100 Americans if they agree with these restrictions and 99 would say "hell no". Sometimes the government allies with corporations just to fuck us over. If you try to fight it, they call you a "populist".


They also value corporate profit.


We should be indexing on more local competition.

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.


On the topic, I think there's a better middle ground. Local governments already tend to manage roads, utility poles, etc. If they would manage conduit space the same way, maybe some colo, you could give fair access to private persons and companies, while preventing some of the ills of the way things tend to work right now (specific approval required for buildout, companies getting too familiar and working too closely with local government for there to be any fairness).

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.


I wonder is there some wavelength that is not regulated that can 'override' legislation? Or another type of transmission. Mesh networks come to mind but I'm thinking better.


Is there any resource from the other side that provides reasons why restrictions should be placed on community broadband? The explanation "Evil Monopoly wants all the money" seems too simple for the complex nuanced world we live in.


If you actually read the laws cited by the article, many are completely reasonable: https://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/statutes/66/IV/042.... Wisconsin, for example, requires a public hearing and cost-benefit analysis before building municipal broadband, and even that requirement can be waived if the municipality only offers wholesale service and there's not already 2 or more competitors.

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.


The argument is that government, at any level, shouldn't be competing with the private sector. It should regulate the market, but shouldn't participate in it, because, on a practical level, it's often not too good at it, but also because it can create perverse incentives. For example, say municipal broadband became ubiquitous and popular enough that the income from it is now an important source of revenue for the authorities in these towns. Then they are incentivised to make things difficult for any commercial rival, even if the commercial offering is cheaper and better. Given how dysfunctional and kleptocratic municipal politics tends to be, almost everywhere, it's hard to say such concerns aren't entirely unfounded.

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.


Commercial ISPs are already doing all the things you worry public broadband might cause.


> The argument is that government, at any level, shouldn't be competing with the private sector.

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.


> regulate the market

Right, when regulation of market is prevented by vested commercial interests, the government (or the community) needs to step in


Yes. There are many think-tanks whose sole purpose is justifying laws that benefit corporate at the expense of everyone else. They will be happy to provide you with all the reasons you'd like.


While is disapointing that paying a lawmaker us cheaper than competing, it worth noting that laws written by industry is necessarily bad. The onus is on the lawmakers to check what they pass.


As someone from the UK who knows nothing about this, and just can't understand why on earth politicians would make this happen - what reasons are given for this?


Money, votes, influence in local businesses, college admission for their kids, trust funds.

America is more corrupt than one thinks


Money.


I am a strong believer in the free market and neo-liberalism . But let’s be clear: this isn’t capitalism, this is rent-seeking and corruption.


Would a drone swarm that provides a mesh network for user devices to connect through, get around these restrictions?


it is all about the benjamins...and big ISP have more of them. I have 2 ISP's (Spectrum and AT&T), and both are really expensive. And i am in San Antonio, how is this competition and how does this help me the consumer.

So very frustrating. lobbying pisses me off and now i am just venting.


Pragmatically, the reason I would want municipal broadband is because it would be less expensive than Comcast or whatever private provider, right?

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?


This is straight up shameful. People involved in these decisions should be personally shamed in their day to day, dropping their kids off at school, shopping at the grocery store, and picking up their mobile orders at Starbucks.


TBH with 5G coming around the corner, I'd hate my city to plow 10s/100s of millions into laying fiber that might not get used.


Wireless data has actually got more expensive.

A little older now, but:

- https://brooksreview.net/2010/06/att-caps-phone-data-usage-w....

- http://www.cbsnews.com/news/new-att-wireless-plan-caps-phone....

2GB for $25/mo with AT&T, $10/GB overage.

Now?

- https://www.att.com/shop/wireless/data-plans.html

$30/mo for 2GB, with $15/GB overage.

Data prices do seem to have gotten better:

http://about.att.com/story/att_offers_its_best_ever_pricing_....

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.

- http://www.att.com/att/planner/

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.


5G is vastly different than previous generation cellular service. It's hard to tell what will happen to prices once it's fully deployed.


What in the actual hell.


[flagged]


We've banned this account for breaking the site guidelines. Could you please not create accounts to do that with?

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


When I upvote this, I feel like I'm hitting the FB 'like' button and it does nothing really to make it better.


It seems like our free market is working exactly as intended. It sorted itself out just like its proponents said it would. Sure most people have no broadband or are locked in with a monopolistic provider, but it was left to its own devices and now clearly provides the best service for everyone. This of course, includes bribing--I mean lobbying--politicians. What an amazing system.


It’s not a free market if the barriers to entry are so high even Google has trouble


well is it a market that just naturally high barriers to entry so the market will trend towards oligopoly or monopoly, or is it caused by senseless regulations, protectionism, etc.?




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