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The internet should be a public utility (qz.com)
514 points by laurex 63 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 250 comments

I talked with the mayor of Los Altos Hills, CA yesterday where I advocated for a municipal fiber ISP. It seems crazy to me that in Silicon Valley, and specifically in one of its richest towns, that broadband is not available to every residence.

She makes a good point: the residents don't care. Her argument is that ~20 mbps DSL is good enough for the elderly population. And further - that for those who find that inadequate - Comcast is often (but by no means universally) available.

I write this tethered to the cell network because I can't get a decent wired internet solution here, with direct line-of-sight to Google's headquarters and the mega-offices of many of tech's largest players. As I am stuck at home, constantly turning off others' video streams while I try to engage with my coworkers remotely, I deeply wish that we had either a more competitive marketplace or a more belligerently pro-consumer regulator.

And, by the way, the FCC thinks I have a dozen options for broadband. That is false.

I daresay, it's even worse than that. Your neighbors are actively fighting against the installation of infrastructure that would enable faster internet speeds.

AT&T tried to bring FTTN to San Francisco years ago, but neighbors decried the "ugly" green boxes that would run down the street. Boxes that are standard in literally any suburb with fast internet.

There are limited parts of the bay area with gigabit fiber, including some large apartment buildings. The rent is higher in those places, of course.

It's so crazy because if you have ever seen the same neighborhood with and without power lines, the difference is dramatic. Power lines are horrendously ugly. But after people got use to them, they can barely be bothered to pay 10% extra on their power bill for the lines to be buried.

Likewise, people would instantly forget about the green boxes after a few year.

> Likewise, people would instantly forget about the green boxes after a few year.

I disagree, as a pedestrian I have to walk around FTTC and terminal boxes every day.

Imagine if they were installed off the kerb, on the road instead of the pavement. There would be uproar.

Fiber boxes (and cable boxes) here are all at least twelve feet above ground level up on a pole. You never 'walk around them' unless you are levitating.

That's not an aesthetic complaint.

> Power lines are horrendously ugly.

So is the 20 foot wide expanse of dirty tar next to the power lines. But people have lived with that all their lives, and barely notice it.

I’m not sure what you are suggesting here. Power lines can be buried but what’s the alternative to residential streets?

In Walt Disney's opinion, you could bury the streets, too. Utility corridors (or "utilidors" — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disney_utilidor_system) are essentially the road equivalent to a subway systems' rails.

There are some existing pedestrian-only underground city corridor systems, such as https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PATH_(Toronto); and there are many vehicle-only road tunnel networks underlaying modern "walkable" cities, mostly in Europe. There are even a few cities that already have both (e.g. Dubai), although they just have separate pedestrian and road-tunnel networks that don't connect.

Disney's vision was to marry the two—to treat them as an interconnected network, as we do today with the road network (which spans everything from walking trails in parks, to residential streets with bike lanes, to grade-separated freeways.)

We haven't done it yet, but there's not much stopping a city planner (especially of a new city, e.g. a charter city) from doing it. We really could have a "roadless" and even "streetless" surface, with only buildings and parks visible.

(IMHO, it'd be very good to try this first in an area that gets really hot, like Arizona, since you'd get the dual benefits of 1. keeping people cool on their way between air-conditioned buildings by relying on the natural thermal buffering of the earth; and 2. greatly decreasing surface albedo compared to cities that have tons of blacktop. Maybe make a city ordnance that all buildings—and especially rooves—have to be light colors, to boost that effect.)

It's definitely an interesting thought exercise.

Do those tunnels actually go to individual homes? I can understand subterranean arterials but would each house actually have direct access to a tunnel? How does that work? Is my garage underground? Does everyone have a basement with an "outside" door?

How does a fire truck or ambulance get to my house? Do deliveries get dropped off underground?

> Is my garage underground?

Not the whole garage (unless that looks better, or is more space-efficient), but it’d probably exit underground, yeah.

I would expect that under this model, due to the costs of digging and the economies-of-scale of shared digging, most housing developments (even single-family housing developments) would lean away from SFH garages, and toward neighbourhood autopools (like the parking floors of condo buildings, but not attached to any one building), where you could walk (underground) from your house to the autopool, then drive (underground) from the autopool onto the auto-tunnel.

> Would each house actually have direct access to a tunnel?

Probably not. Big condo buildings would. Townhouse developments might, since you could just build one tunnel “across” a stretch of homes with regularized entrances. (Though these might necessarily be clumsy, tight stairways.)

I would imagine, in suburban areas where you’ve mostly got individually-developed single-family housing†, you’d likely have above-ground pedestrian walkways connecting a neighbourhood’s worth of houses to a ground-level pedestrian utilidor access point. Like a street-corner subway entrance, but without the subway. (I mean, the subway would be there, but you’d get to it with more walking through the utilidor.)

† Not that “suburban” makes much sense to talk about in this context, for various reasons, but it might be relevant to retrofitting projects.

But, presumably, the utilidor would be “shared public/private infrastructure” just like the road system is—so if you wanted a direct access from your house to the pedestrian utilidor, or from your garage to the auto-tunnel, it’d just be a matter of spending the money to get it dug out yourself, rather than about getting the city to do it for you. (Presumably you’d have to hire city-certified engineers to do the work, but that’s true of any digging you do in city limits today.) And that means that you could probably find developments with their own private utilidor access as an amenity.

Walkable,neighbourhoods designed for people rather than having them designed for cars first.

Ok but even pedestrian first residential neighborhoods need roads. It’s not like power lines where you can completely get rid of them.

Those few roads can be tiny and out of the way, see this Utrecht redevelopment. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/15/forward-thinki...

Cities have had roads for a lot longer than cars have existed.

Certainly but they weren’t originally designed to carry cars as their primary function.

I never understand the "green box is ugly" argument. Yes it is. Can we not work out a deal where a local artist paints it and puts a statue on top.

It needs to be a box with stuff in it and access panels, the outer aesthetic doesn't matter and can conform to local tastes.

It’s a good point. Sebastopol CA is full of cute metal statues up and down the front yards of homes and entrances to businesses. A local artist makes them. It’s cute. You’d think we could do that with infrastructure too.

AT&T can put those under the ground. They are ugly. And they take up already limited sidewalk space in many areas.

Do you want to put up taxes for additional trenching, nevermind the overhead associated with the different agencies when digging is involved?

Taxes paid for the initial cost of not only most of the infrastructure of internet but also cable. This was "paid back" at zero interest loan payments over dozens of years, in most municipalities.

Put them in the street, take up parking spaces from cars. The attitude that people don’t deserve the same guarantees as cars is a bad one.

People will drive into them.

I don't think her DSL argument is coherent. The only reason DSL is available to most houses is that those wires were put in by a municipal phone company or highly regulated monopoly. Anybody who has talked to a DSL tech knows that a lot of that infrastructure is creaky, many decades old. We need to figure out what to do for the next century.

Personally, I think we should at least look at the local loop as a natural monopoly. Just like the city is expected to own and maintain the road to your house, it should own and maintain the digital equivalent. From your house to the POP, it's city fiber. From the POP onward, sure, let that be run commercially, with a free minimum tier, say 5 mb/s. If you want anything more, you can contract with any ISP who has a presence in your POP. That way we get both a truly competitive marketplace and universal access.

Those same DSL techs often know exactly what needs to be done to save the telecom company they work for, deploy GPON.

Verizon broke new ground and did it in the early 2000s, and its the only reason they still have as many customers as they do. The assets they sold to Frontier were partially upgraded, and have taken a beating due to Frontier's internal incompetence and poor service. Reactivating service to an existing ONT should not take more than a few minutes, yet it takes 24+hrs with Frontier.

The cable companies are willing to do what is neccesary to get customers up and running, which is how they have hollowed out the incumbent telecom's business.

Of course it's not coherent, it's just a roundabout way to say they don't want to give anyone any reason to move to LOH. Read between the lines.

Here's the sad truth: you're not going to be able to do anything for the next century. The next century will not happen in the US cities you are thinking about. They will happen in other US cities or elsewhere in the world.

The city of Zurich has what to my understanding is public fiber which is available to most buildings. (I assume there are some exceptions). It is managed by the electricity company run by the city. https://zuerinet.ch

Setting up routers, billing etc. has been delegated to any third party ISP willing to do the job. I think they can charge what they want, as there are some very small differences in price. I pay ~44CHF/month for 100mb/s. While not dirt cheap, It's ok considering the price of other stuff here. Service so far has been very reliable.

This is the sort of model that many US municipalities have tried to implement. Unfortunately, many of them have been blocked from doing so by ISP lawsuits.

I’m also a Zürich resident. There is a healthy competition between ISPs and it’s easy to switch between them since the fiber network is provided by the city. When your contract is expiring, ask your ISP for a loyalty discount. I’m paying CHF 35/month for 1 Gbps (although in the last few weeks it hasn’t been that fast).

This is the model that NZ (similar size/population as Oregon) followed. We have the network provider, which can be regional. ISPs compete for pricing model and peering etc, and the ISP manages the home installation, but all ISPs use the same network.

It is a country wide rollout, subsidised by the government (maybe loan, but govt takes risk?). They haven’t solved rural access.

Everything in my city is underground - mostly trenchless on the street using underground thrusting. Tech used varies by region and network operator.

> ~44CHF/month for 100mb/s. While not dirt cheap

That _is_ dirt cheap by US prices. Comcast (my only option) is $75/mo for 250/5 (yes, only 5 megabit up!).

$50/month here for me in southern Mississippi for gigabit fiber from AT&T. I'm not sure what dirt cheap is for internet in the US but I think I'm there.

That's approximately $46 USD, which is actually in line with most cable companies when you are a new customer.

Of course, they get you by turning that $45 for 100Mb down with the modem rental for $10 / month, the 'fees' and taxes that are another $10 / month. Then, after your 'introductory' prices expire, you end up at $70 / month for the same 100Mb. But listen to this - a deal you can't refuse when your intro prices expire: They will sell you a 'bundle' with included cable TV for the same price of $70.

And now you're looking at the original $70... plus digital box fee of $10 / month x 2 or 3 outlets, and also another $5 for sports programming fees you never watch, DV recorder boxes for all the outlets, so you can record that one show, and even an HBO Go trial that was 'free' for 6 months, but then turns into a $10 / month recurring charge.

And this is how the average household in America ends up paying $150 / month, when all they really wanted in the first place was a $40 /100MB internet connection. Unless you're making below poverty rates, where the telecoms are forced to offer you a basic internet plan for under $20, you're going to get screwed because there is no way to get just decent internet without all the add-ons.

You can get the original promo price if you threaten to cancel. There's a song and dance with CSR but once they transfer you to the retentions dept, they are authorized to give you the original price again for a year. Actually, Comcast did give me a different deal once where the price was slightly higher than my original introductory offer but speeds were also better.

That trick had worked for me about 10 years ago. The last time I was buying my own plan, Verizon was not interested in playing that game. The 'TV bundle' was the only thing they would offer, which is why I ended up at $70 anyway. And that was in a city with another Cable internet provider and a (very slow) DSL option.

Most consumers don't even have another option, and the cable companies know you aren't going to just get rid of internet to spite them.

$75/mo here in Iowa for 30/30 fiber to the home.

I’m on a 2 year contract with Comcast and getting 600 down for $60. You might give them a call to see if they can lower your rate.

I get att fiber 1g at 70$. It's even cheaper now at 50$

$40/month 1 Gig - SONIC in Bay area.

I understand that running physical cable to all locations is expensive, and if there is not a guarantee of minimum customer buy in it makes no financial sense for companies to do that. I grew up in the 80s and should be of the MTV generation, but because of the economics I never had an option for cable until I moved away from the parental units. I couldn't imagine not having access to the internet in today's society.

I have hopes that with 5G, we could have a way to deliver gov't subsidized internet plans that allow everyone to be able to have a minimum amount of reliable bandwidth. Buy your $20USD receiver to receive a basic 10Mbps down, 1.5Mbps up connection. I think that should be free. Just enough to watch some video, enough to push normal attachments in email/web post (homework, resumes, etc). After that, if you want/need more bandwidth, then buy what you want. But at least this would provided a way to get past that last mile problem while making basic internet for all a viable thing.

Comcast offered to connect my place for something around $22,000. When I asked them to write a bid, they vanished. So as far as I can tell, they were bluffing and did not expect me to call them on it.

And on 5G? I have little hope. At least here in the US where we've decided that it should be millimeter-wave, the range is insufficient to circumvent NIMBYism and FUD around installation and RF emissions.

I thought there's already a bunch of low-band deployments in US?

> Her argument is that ~20 mbps DSL is good enough

that is insane. How having no internet is fine because 20mbps is enough?

That could be a good argument against fiber (which i also think is overkill, decent cooper is lower maintenance and with enough repeaters as good as) but it is hardly an argument against it being available to all as a public utility.

> And, by the way, the FCC thinks I have a dozen options for broadband. That is false.

and the real enemy shows up. FCC, from the bush-omaba-trump admin become the most corrupt organization one can think of. They openly lie and laugh when someone point out the lie.

> from the bush-omaba-trump admin become the most corrupt organization one can think of

I don't know whether they were corrupt, but Tom Wheeler did a fantastic job from a consumer rights & Internet health perspective during the Obama admin. Most notably he implemented Title II regulations to enforce net neutrality (since undone by a Republican), but also supported municipal broadband (since undone by a Republican), fought against several huge communication company mergers (since undone by a Republican), and supported content providers against ISPs charging interconnection fees.


on his first year he passed the "internet fast lane" regulation, against net neutrality, and made lots of profits for his cable and wireless business.

only to four months later start a huge campaign with obama pro net neutrality for the classification of ISPs as utilities under Title II of the Communications Act of 1934 (with profitable exceptions). Opening the floodgates on direct white house influence on the FCC and permanently making it the political tool which Ajit Pai wields.

> on his first year he passed the "internet fast lane" regulation, against net neutrality, and made lots of profits for his cable and wireless business

No, he proposed a net neutrality regulation that would allow fast lanes, and said he was open to a stronger rule if it had enough support. The comments on the first proposal overwhelmingly favored a stronger approach, and so the final rule that he actually passed was the Title II reclassification.

He took this approach because the courts had struck down the Open Internet Order of 2010, and this was the safest way to restore as much of that as possible without doing a very politically difficult and risky Title II reclassification.

And what do you mean "his cable and wireless business"? In the distant past he had held executive positions in first the main cable trade group, and later the main wireless trade group, but the first was something like 30 years before he was on the FCC and the second something like 10 years before he was on the FCC.

The cable stuff was so long ago that it was just television--the cable modem had not yet been invented. It was also a time when the cable industry was the disruptive new kid on the block trying to bring competition for the big entrenched OTA broadcast networks.

Same thing when he worked for the wireless industry. It was when they were the new thing trying to make inroads against the big landline telecom companies.

ok, you think the fast lane is not part of net neutrality to begin with. I'm on the side where words have meaning.

What choice is there when congress can't/won't legislate?

The regulation is (still) badly needed. We see the shortcomings of the current delivery system laid bare but if a company won't invest to keep a competitive advantage, again what choice is there?

> What choice is there when congress can't/won't legislate?

Work on electing different people to Congress, and meanwhile try to implement it on state level?

I mean, the whole point of having Congress is so that the executive can't just do whatever it wants.

Yeah we should encourage executive overreach - clearly title II was not for the internet and the FCC has no role. If congress wants to give them that role - then that is the job of congress.

I'm not sure why you think "decent cooper" is as good as fiber. Unless you can deliver me 1Gbps symmetrically like my current fiber, you're inadequate. I currently have two kids doing remote learning, a wife who's starting to VPN at times, and I myself work remotely at least 9 hours a day for the last 20 days.

My podunk town has FTH through a municipal partnership. It works great. If my town can do it, I expect every other town above a population of 300K to do it as well. It's not rocket science.

The problem is with people saying crap like "good enough." The Network Director at my company said that a wireless (GSM) connection of 1Mbps was "good enough." I laughed and said that explains why our LAN and WAN speeds are so bad. WiFi in a conference room with an access point directly overhead fails half the time.

Good enough...

Times are changing. 20 years ago I worked at a distance learning company creating H.S. courseware. Cutting edge stuff that was lost in a market that didn't care. Too many competing interests. But I bet all those education administrators wish they had invested in more than Chromebooks that don't have courseware.

> Unless you can deliver me 1Gbps symmetrically like my current fiber, you're inadequate. I currently have two kids doing remote learning, a wife who's starting to VPN at times, and I myself work remotely at least 9 hours a day for the last 20 days.

This really shouldn't require such exotic internet. Unless you are downloading large files, it's hard to use more than a few megabits per person on average.

Often the nice thing about fiber is the surrounding infrastructure is newer and better.

> it's hard to use more than a few megabits per person on average.

With the coming rise of streaming services(currently using 6 to 12 mbps) and other things I can regularly see each individual person using 25mbps or more with the rise of 4k. And in a house of 4. That means the house needs 100mbps real capacity. And then it needs to not be bottlenecked on the street with dozens of other houses.

And not just streaming of games. But of movies. Education. Meetings. And tons of other streaming related activities compounded on potential normal usage non streaming.

And lets not forget that my predictions are based on the short term (<5 years) time frames. Infrastructure shouldn't need replacing every 5 years, but perhaps every 10-15 years at the lowest. So in that regard I'd bump it up to say at minimum every household should be able to sustain 500mbps symmetrically during peak concurrency strain hours.

Perhaps offer up to 1 gbps to 10 gbps during non peak times and during short spikes.

Why do people need to see pimples of everyone in your family in 4K each?

>This really shouldn't require such exotic internet. Unless you are downloading large files, it's hard to use more than a few megabits per person on average.

You're assuming averages, but just looking at Youtube buffering, it downloads videos in bursts, despite being a "streaming" service. Combine bursty behavior with latency sensitive applications like video conferencing or gaming, and having that headroom is nice.

That said 1000/1000 may not be absolutely needed, but 100/100 or even 100/10 does not seem like it should be that big of an ask.

My provider gives me 250/25. That the upload speed has been a tenth of the download has never been an issue before.

But video calling with colleagues and while doing syncing data with servers has been a bitch.

Try living in a place with only 3 mbps down. You'll find your various computing devices are constantly pegging the connection doing nothing but downloading updates.

I have a lot of computing devices. Probably more than the average American. But both of those numbers are only going up.

> decent cooper is lower maintenance

This is interesting. Do you have a reference for that? Everything I've read seems to claim that fibre is lower maintenance than copper -- but I'd love to read something to the contrary.

> ~20 mbps DSL is good enough for the elderly population

I used 30 mbps internet for years till my ISP upgraded my lovest tear and I worked from home. Even gigabit was available I don't really care about speed. If you don't work with big files that needs to be synced often slow speed is fine.

I only care that my internet is stable. In this regard, fiber is way better, but for most elderly even a few hours a week downtime is not a big deal.

Not that this is a solution but get a good directional antenna and point it at Google - instant guest network(advice not guaranteed to work)!

All it would take to get muni-fiber to really get going would be for the FCC to get behind it and for federal aid to spur development in places to go to these muni-fiber cooperatives rather than the telcos.

I see the internet as a road. I think it’d be cool if road tech advanced but if it didn’t the economy would still function because all of the things built on the robust road system are there.

Also nothing is going to make entrenched telcos innovate more than having to compete with 10s or hundreds more players.

If you have LOS to GOOG headquarters, you probably have LOS to someone with fast internet. You can set up plug-and-play directional internet bridge over several km for a couple hundred USD, and split their internet bill with them. Yeah there's a lot of hurdles, but if you don't have another option might be worth looking in to.

There's a couple of dishes in a box downstairs. It's on the to-do list. :)

Common.net is planning on gigabit wireless service in Alameda and San Leandro later this year. And they offer 300mbit service now. The technology is there to do this without laying fiber or other traditional infrastructure. If there are many people that want something better than DSL start a wireless ISP.

We tried this in South Africa. It ended badly with Telkom.

I mean, you would also expect one of the richest cities in the country to have sidewalks and street lights. They have different priorities.

> She makes a good point: the residents don't care. Her argument is that ~20 mbps DSL is good enough for the elderly population.

I'd say that's a horrible point. Many people don't care about having guns or being monitored 24/7. That doesn't mean we shouldn't provide those as liberties.

For most non-Americans, it's fairly non-controversial that one of those should definitely be severely restricted.

There are some efforts in LAH at the grassroots level.


I imagine the low density of LAH makes the cost of installing fiber throughout town more of a barrier than other areas.

I went to their most-recent meeting. I have some hope for the project, but I don't think it's likely to make it my way before I'm part of the 20-mbps-is-ok elderly population. They've really got to figure out how to be a real ISP and use the preexisting utility easements rather than try to get new ones.

As for the cost, they were talking about $1-3k/house depending on how many signed up in a "corridor". That's peanuts, especially for the area.

So iirc LAH doesn't have (or has very few of?) conduits that the town itself owns. The part that'll likely happen first is a "dig once" installation of the Utility tunnels that are publicly owned. Gary Kremen (of match.com fame, who's on the water district as well) has been fighting hard for this, and I'd encourage you to reach out to him.

There's an utility undergrounding effort over near the Foothill college fire station area that'll hopefully be the pilot project for this.

What I wasn't aware of until recently was how spotty the broadband coverage is in the town. There are areas with 100mbps, and others with barely any coverage at all from what I've heard. The situation really isn't pretty.

I think the $1k-$3k cost is if you have an existing backbone(?) endpoint near your residence. If you happen to not be close to an existing one, the costs will be much higher. I think the group has some ideas for some short term workarounds.

Thanks for the pointer! I sent a note on Nextdoor. I'm not opposed to spending money on infrastructure, but so far I haven't found a viable avenue for actually doing so.

I've also reached out to Common and Sail to see if they'd be willing to try to make something out of my commanding line-of-sight. Historically that has not been the case.

I think the nearest AT&T fiber node is a few minutes' walk away and I'd love to pay to cut a trench to it. But I haven't been able to find anyone there willing to entertain the idea.

I'm also trying to find a business within my line-of-sight that will let me pay them for roof and utility access so that I can beam something to myself.

It’s Gary Kremen here - hit me up for info - gkremen @ gmail or check out - https://www.nextlevel.net/

> She makes a good point

How can that be a good point?...

I think we all know that until an amazing product is presented to the customers, and the customers start to actually use it in its designated ways, the truly amazing product will be loved and touted by the people.

For example, China Mobile was routinely instructed by government to cut price [1]. In 2018-09, I visited Shenzhen, and spend 1 RMB and purchased 1GB cellular data package. This change absolutely is critical to China's booming gig-economy, and general digital transformation (I'll leave the privacy and propaganda debate outside, just for economy).

At the time, can China Mobile claim that "people do not care"? They absolutely can. But government is created to think in long-term prospect.

[1] http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/201803/23/WS5ab491d8a3105cdcf...

TBH silicon valley broadband is way worse than the service I had in rural PA

I'm hopeful for that satellite internet from SpaceX to solve availability.

Why should that be what it takes to solve this issue, though? We have the capabilities down here on Earth; they're just stymied by crony capitalism and regulatory capture.

It’s pretty exciting for rural areas — not that it should be hard to run fiber everywhere (not my area of expertise). It just seems like a very quick way to turn on access for a lot of areas. Especially places just beyond towns and cities that are still well within civilization, but just not connected. Current satellite is ok but the latency is pretty unfortunate.

Who needs electricity when we have candles?

Right, and 40A was good, so let's deliver 400A to every house. Actually 4kA. 4MA! Yes, every house needs a little mini-nuke, tear up everybody's backyard to put in a coal plant - no wait, that didn't happen because it turns out "enough electricity" is good not "more electricity is better".

Always On Internet access matters. But bandwidth, like electricity, is something that you can just have enough of and then more doesn't make much difference. And because of Buffer Bloat people tend to wildly over-estimate how much bandwidth they actually need/ benefit from.

You snark, but what happens when EV adoption picks up and suddenly those houses need to move a lot more electrons?

A large (probably over-size for most users) EV battery is 360MJ.

It seems reasonable we should be able to fill the EV battery overnight, let's say 10 hours between we plug the EV in to charge (empty) and expect to find it full.

So that 36000 seconds, and conveniently that gives us 10kW power input. Which sure enough is about 40A.

So, not "a lot more" electrons. Transitioning other energy uses to electricity will increase the load at individual homes and to the grid but it isn't an order of magnitude thing.

A mistake commonly made here is that people look at energy equivalence charts and they assume that 10GJ of gasoline means we'd need 10GJ of electricity to do the same job. But in fact ICE is hideously inefficient, we used it because it was convenient and for no other reason, so electric cars have always been several times more efficient than 1:1 on that basis - that just wasn't good enough reason to switch before.

I have a 200 amp panel. Today that's fine, but my home is heated by gas, my food is heated by gas, my pool is heated by gas, and my transportation is powered by gasoline.

Let's be naive and say that the panel was properly provisioned for the loads in the house when it was built in 1975. Now let's switch out gas heating for a heat pump, costing us 40 A. Induction cooktop? 50 A. Oven? 50 A. Two EVs? 100 A. Pool heater? 50 A.

Having a 400 amp panel quickly starts to sound pretty good. On the other hand, so does having a huge solar array and a bunch of batteries. But code and permitting and PG&E does not smile on such beefy residential installations.

Multiple cars. 2 is pretty standard,3 is not unusual.

An average US home has 240 volts at 40 amps which is 24,000 watts.

Isn't it 9600? (240*40).

And maybe less because it's 240V,AC?

So basically you are advocating that someone else (the taxpayers) picks up you internet connection bill?

Have you considered to move somewhere else with a better internet rather than complain about everything and everyone?

This comment breaks the site guidelines. Would you mind reviewing them and commenting in the intended spirit of the site? We'd be grateful.


Walk me through this argument - my local utilities are a nightmare! Their pricing is atrocious and regressive (huge flat fixed fees to connect, tiny marginal costs), they constantly have to borrow money from the city to make ends meet. Combined, we pay $350 a month for gas, water & drainage, electricity (over 50% of the bills are fixed costs, unaffected by our consumption). Customer service is awful.

In comparison, our internet is relatively painfree and only $30 a month. I get that there are certain high level concepts of why it is good to treat internet as a utility, but as a consumer the idea frustrates me.

(Our city offers a municipal internet, btw. But it's worse service for more money, and has generally been a money drain for taxpayers.)

If the municipality lays the fiber and provides the internet service, the result may be poor. But that doesn't have to be the arrangement. The municipality can lay the fiber and allow multiple companies to offer internet service over that infrastructure.

In Chelan County, WA they've blended the best of public and private. The government took on the large upfront costs and laid municipal fiber down all over the place. Literally cabins in the woods are connected up to fiber optics. Then they somehow facilitated the capability for multiple providers to sell internet connectivity over that fiber. I'm not exactly sure how they did that -- maybe they laid multiple fiber strands, maybe they leased a variety of wavelengths, etc -- but the end result is that residents of Chelan County with fiber have multiple ISPs to choose from, the prices are very competitive and the service is good.

In Chelan County, LocalTel offers 1000Mbps down and 100Mbps up for $74.95 per month. No performance issues whatsoever with all the COVID-19 related traffic spikes and when you call LocalTel with a tech problem, a real human answers the phone -- it's wonderful.

In Washington state, this is only permitted in rural counties. The public utility district is allowed to lay fiber, but not to sell access to it directly to consumers. The law requires them to provide common access to the infrastructure at a rate that reflects their operational costs, but only to ISP companies. Someone wrote about their experience here (https://loomcom.com/blog/0098_fiber_optic_bliss.html).

Meanwhile, public utility districts in more populated counties (King, Snohomish, etc) are forbidden to offer network infrastructure at all. Tacoma has some weird public private partnership that seems somewhat dysfunctional and may predate these laws.

Note that I haven't checked in a few years, so the above could potentially be out of date.

Can you link to the laws around this? I'd love to look into this more.

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

The law (there might be others though): https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=54.16.330

It looks like I may have been wrong about populated counties? Not sure.

All of those providers share the same non-redundant transport provider out of Chelan County FYI. City of Tacoma also has a similar setup, but they moved too early and are stuck with a cable network.

Off-topic but I loved visiting Lake Chelan during my attempt at Cascade Loop. Your comment suddenly sparked warm memories.

I don’t even understand what the distinction is. For instance PG&E in California is a private company but regulated by the government. I pay for service and if I stop paying they cut me off. Isn’t Comcast internet service the same thing? A private company but regulated by the FCC.

The only difference I can think of is there are still multiple providers for internet service available in most places. Would making internet a public utility just mean giving a government granted monopoly to one provider per region and forbidding anyone else from selling internet service?

The details vary substantially by type of utility and jurisdiction, but generally a public utility is subject to far stricter regulation than internet service providers which are regarded as a competitive industry.

A key example would be requirements for tariff approvals: public utilities are generally not permitted to make their own pricing decisions, instead they need to publish a tariff and they are not permitted to modify the tariff without petitioning the regulator for permission. The regulatory authority generally has broad authority to order utilities to do whatever it believes should be done, and has to approve almost all changes to the service, which the utility must justify as beneficial to customers.

Take a look at your electric bill, for example. Generally there's an interconnection fee and base rate, both of which come directly from the published tariff approved by the regulator. Due to real changes in the energy market there will also be a "fuel cost surcharge," this fee is calculated based on generation costs according to a formula included in the published tariff. If you have any dispute about the pricing or quality of the service you can take that complaint to the regulator, many regulators require that the utilities provide you that phone number as part of your bill.

Then look at your internet bill. The rate on it is whatever the ISP wants, and they have no requirement to explain it to you, except for a few mandated taxes. They can raise and lower it more or less at will, subject to your contractual protections, which are usually minimal. With most incumbent ISPs it is standard for the rate to increase significantly after 12 or 24 months. If you have complaints, there is a small chance you can take them to the FCC under certain regulatory authorities the FCC has exercised, but for the most part your only option is to find another provider.

> Would making internet a public utility just mean giving a government granted monopoly to one provider per region and forbidding anyone else from selling internet service?

Quite the opposite, generally. Many places legislate common access to the infrastructure, so a single provider runs the cables but any number of ISPs can compete to sell service on it.

This removes the primary barrier to entry for ISPs (last mile infrastructure) which allows for actual competition to take place.

> Would making internet a public utility just mean giving a government granted monopoly to one provider per region and forbidding anyone else from selling internet service?

If that's what "public utility" means then Internet is already a public utility in many parts of the US, since this is exactly the arrangement in existence today.

> of is there are still multiple providers for internet service available in most places

No there aren't. There's generally one cable provider (100Mbps+) and one DSL (10-20Mbps down max). These services aren't comparable.

Zero competition in an egregiously high amount of locations in the United States.

The internet is a fundamental human right, like access to water and power. It is now required by most school systems. It should be protected by Net Neutrality legislation and in places with zero competition, treated as a utility. Or, at minimum, the laws should make it easier to allow for competition — such as outlawing geographic cable internet monopolies, outlawing cable company monopoly deals with cities and counties, and providing access to physical infrastructure for new players in the space.

Your anecdote, while understandable, doesn’t apply to all. My utilities are just fine with customer service just fine.

If internet is a fundamental human right, then over the air broadband should be perfectly acceptable. In which case there are a ton of competitive options across the US. Unless the argument is that a specific type of internet access at a specific speed is a human right.

Yes, a specific minimum speed would be required, otherwise you could claim IP over Pigeon or Postal Service would be sufficient.

Also cost would play a role. LTE typically has restrictive caps and high costs, especially for at-home/hotspot internet. Someone having a 15 - 60 minute teledoc video conference with their doctor shouldn't blow through half their monthly data allowance.

Never underestimate the bandwidth of a station wagon full of tapes hurtling down the highway. You can get a very respectable average speed out of the postal service.

Latency is an oft-neglected metric. You can browse the web on a satellite internet connection with a 200ms ping, but it's anywhere from bad to unusable for a lot of other applications.

I think that has a lot to do with your municipality. I have municipal electricity and not only is it very affordable, it's 100% renewable because they started the shift to renewables back in the 1980s. They haven't had to raise rates in years. My internet is also municipally owned and it is about half the cost for double the speed as Comcast, which is it's only local competition. So, I think it largely depends on how well the government is run. If government officials look out for the public interest, listen to science, and think long-term, we'll get better outcomes.

The danger with government nationalizing telecommunications networks is that once it is done, innovation and quality go way down. We had nationalized telecommunications for over 70 years and customers could only have one brand of phone, and we're limited in the number of phones available in their houses. In addition, long distance calling was cost-prohibitive. The monopoly only started cracking when MCI introduced microwave based long distance calling.

Fortunately non-governmental is on the way for you. 4G/5G are decent options, many areas (rural and in major cities) have microwave based broadband, and it looks like Starlink will become a reality soon. Putting fiber lines in the ground is extremely expensive (especially in California) and frankly is not really needed by most of the population.

Are you just using a cell phone? In your situation or may make sense to buy a repeater or other dedicated hardware solutions.

AT&T also provided an extremely high quality of service, not really seen since that time, and operated a corporate R&D arm that I think could fairly be called the global center of innovation for decades, designing as an almost side-effect of telephone switches a large portion of the computer technology we use today from silicon to operating system. One wonders where the state of the industry would be today had Bell Labs and Western Electric been able to continue with the lavish funding and long-term vision that their monopolistic parents afforded them. And the reverse, would T-Mobile invent the transistor?

It's hard to argue that innovation and quality of the telephone system went down under AT&T's monopoly when, during that time period, AT&T played a fundamental role in the invention of the computer and famously took measures as extreme as moving buildings while telephone operators work inside in order to avoid service disruption. It seems that other factors must have been in play as well in the eventual decline of "ma bell".

The story of AT&T's monopoly on telephone service and its subsequent breakup at the hands of both court and MCI/Sprint is a complex one that cannot be so simply used as an argument for or against the arrangement. It was a very particular situation in a very particular time, perhaps most significantly because AT&T created an entire market sector which the government had no coherent strategy to manage. So-called competition has also been quite insufficient to revolutionize the landline telephone market, it remains perhaps as consumer-hostile as it has ever been, something forgotten largely only because the cellular industry has replaced it (which, facing stiff competition but the regulatory wild west of the internet, is consumer-hostile in a whole new way).

I can only argue back that the state of AT&T was such that it was such a massively profitable entity that exuded such power in terms of resources that what you are describing would not have been unique to AT&T had a less monopolistic situation arisen. The technologies that AT&T advanced, while notable, are far from impossible to have emerged had other entities had a fair share of the resources that AT&T monopolized.

To say AT&T should not have been broken-up due to its achievements is akin to say that Mussolini should have stayed in power because "he made the trains run on time". Yes, maybe, but at what other, hidden costs?

This is awesome content. Any chance you have a book you could recommend on this subject?

Both siblings name the books that I would most likely to recommend. Also, Steve Call's "The Deal of the Century" and "Telephone: The First Hundred Years," John Brooks. The latter is a 1976 book which was commissioned by AT&T as a corporate history. As a result it is both outdated and paints a rather rosy picture[1], but I think that's part of what makes that book rather interesting - it's sort of AT&T's best version of itself at the peak of its dominance.

[1] for what it's worth, John Brooks engages right in the introduction with the conflict of a history funded by its subjects, and the book was researched and written independently

It’s mentioned below, but ‘The Idea Factory‘ covers Bell labs and is an excellent read.

The title is bad enough that I won't mention it, but the alternative title is good (and will find you the book):

'The Criminal Wrecking of the Best Telephone System in the World' by Kraus and Duerig.

the argument you are making, from the perspective of microeconomic theory, in short: no.

for a monopolist to offer high quality products and service is exactly part of the monopolist's playbook, not any sort of consumer benefit. The overly generous profits they earn allow them to use comparatively smaller quality enhancements as a barrier to entry for competition. The point is that "high quality service that you pay too much for" reduces the overall level of consumption. So, while the smaller market is happy with the service they receive, a larger market is receiving less service than they want because the price is artificially too high.

Monopolists absolutely do restrict supply, and economists all agree that monopolists are bad for markets.

The part where you suggest "particular situations" is essentially reflective of the other monopolist tactic of "bundling", product mixes designed to price discriminate separate market segments, again, always to the monopolists benefit.

The theory of monopoly is quite robust, and your arguments in favor of the benefits of monopoly do not hold any water whatsoever.

The problem is that AT&T was pretty heavy federally regulated prior to the breakup, Carterfone, etc, and the company achieved most of this work under a regulatory framework that was an early version of what we have today for the industry - and in fact because this was prior to CLECs and RBOCs was actually more similar to a "public utility" regime (e.g. electricity) than what we have today in the telecom industry, with regulated tariffs and the gov't achieving the policy goal of ubiquitous availability through tariff rate rather than the modern surcharge arrangement. The benefits of AT&T's golden era are most attributable not to their monopoly status but to their status as a government-regulated monopoly in a fashion similar to utilities operating under franchise - one which, unlike typical franchise utilities today, was permitted by regulators to maintain a substantial R&D operation.

The system was always somewhat haphazard, for example post-WWII AT&T faced 'competition' from rural telephone cooperatives under the REA as a means of speeding up rural development. However, this was initially a bright-line geographical division of duties and REA telephone coops continued to rely on Long Lines for transit.

Of course many, many things went wrong, including the regulatory regime being a cause of AT&T's decay even prior to court action against their favor. However, it's hard to say if that would be the outcome of such a regulatory framework today (or outright nationalization), because this was the nascent stage of telecom regulation which both the government and AT&T had equal hands in "making up as they went." This was the era in which regulatory capture was more or less invented, for example, and not necessarily on purpose.

My point though is exactly that describing AT&T as "a bad monopoly" or "a good regulated private interest" are not really great arguments in that both of those things were entirely true at the same time, and the particular environment in which The Bell System formed is not one that will likely ever exist again. Newer communications utilities have broadly been shoved into the category of telephony for regulatory purposes or entirely left alone, so it's hard to foresee any future in which we will have a second "telephone era" in which a new debatably-utility emerges to be managed.

As you point out, competition is better than monopoly because it provides a surplus that advantages consumers. But some things we do not want a surplus of, for example river dams. Other things can not be competitive even in principle like surface streets. Likewise as was discovered with mass transit and utilities in the last century in a world that did it's absolute best to be laissez faire.

So there are some rare cases where there must be monopolies and if you must have a monopoly, it is better to have one controlled by a democratic government than a self interested clique. At least then there is some possibility of working in the public interest on price and innovation.

That ISPs must always be a monopoly seems unlikely to me. But if it's politically impossible to break them up, then nationalizing them is still far better than the current situation.

> We had nationalized telecommunications for over 70 years


Until 1982 AT&T in the United States was a legal monopoly, not a nationalized telecom.

The book, The Idea Factory about Bell Labs has most of the history including why the the defense work Bell Labs did during WWII and beyond helped them justify a nationwide monopoly on telecom.

And compared to virtually every nationalized telecom it provided better, cheaper service that was universally available.

Internet access should be regulated like it was a utility however, and that's the great failing of public policy in that area.

Cheaper!?!?! I had $1200 one month long distance bill in 1984. That today is effectively free. Only competition made that happen. If AT&T was still in charge we'd be paying by the call and by the byte.

The price of long distance has more to do with the changes in technology since then than the regulatory environment. Competitive long distance could have happened without lifting the overall regulatory framework that governed telecommunications for 60+ years. Sometime between 1975 and 2005, long haul bandwidth became effectively free - consider that in 1975 the widest bandwidth deployed carrier system was about 108,000 simultaneous calls, a fiber system deployed in 1999, is now carrying 320gb/s which if I did my math right works out to 500m simultaneous calls.

To give you an idea, a residential phone bill from 1982 with unlimited local calling in Seattle was around 13.50 inclusive, in 2019, that same service cost 50 dollars - inflation alone would expect the cost of that service to only be 36 dollars or so - and technological advantages should make that service cheaper, not more expensive.

AT&T was a different company, at one point before divestiture they were the single largest private employer (1973) in the US, providing union jobs with good benefits and stable (effectively) lifetime employment. Beyond this, they were also a leader in providing equal opportunity for minorities.

The money generated by AT&T was paid back in technology dividends - dividends that underpin much of the technological innovation we've seen over the last 60 years.

AT&T's disaster preparedness is a whole other topic that could be gone into as well.

That seems overly simplistic, especially considering my phone bill today is still billed by the byte, for instance.

You seem to have interpreted this as monopoly prices were less than today's prices.

My read of the parent comment is that monopoly era phone service from AT&T was cheaper when compared to phone service in other parts of the world during that era.

I can't speak to the veracity of this claim.

I was making the argument that the price for a local loop was price competitive with nationalized telecoms, but with little to no wait to have service provisioned - in many cases though the nationalized services were cheaper, by far even - but you may be pressed with a months or years long wait to establish service, because of capacity limitations, similarly in some countries you often would have experienced a dial tone delay of minutes from the time you picked up the phone, and/or would have had to schedule your long distance call many hours or days in advance because of limited circuit capacity.

And I ask, what's the difference? Let's try not to be pedantic here, because if they are a legal monopoly, at the end of the day they have to do what the government says, because if they don't the government could just tear the monopoly down and prop up competitors.

1) Ownership

Nationalized companies are owned by the state. AT&T had/has private shareholders.

2) Control

With ownership comes control. The U.S. government granted AT&T a conditional monopoly. In the early 20th century it was in exchange for extending service across the nation. Mid-20th century for defense work.

Aside from these conditions the U.S. government did not exert control on AT&T's operations.

>Nationalized companies are owned by the state. AT&T had/has private shareholders.

I feel like this is being pedantic. While there are shareholders, taxpayers have funded the infrastructure and are paying for it in the form of tax breaks.

> The danger with government nationalizing telecommunications networks is that once it is done, innovation and quality go way down.

Who needs nationalization? The market for transit is reasonably competitive. Local municipalities could install fiber along the roads they already maintain at a modest incremental cost, then offer the service to residents for a monthly fee to pay off the bonds without even spending any taxpayer money.

All you really need from the federal government is to have them do something about incumbent ISPs actively interfering with municipalities that want to do that.

> 4G/5G are decent options

No they're not. The nature of wireless is that it's cheaper if you have a low population density, because one tower for hundreds of people is much cheaper than installing hundreds of miles of fiber for hundreds of people.

It flips completely the other way in anything resembling a city. To get a fraction of the bandwidth available from fiber, you'd need a tower on every street corner, which isn't dramatically less expensive than installing fiber (especially when you count all the spectrum you have to pay for) and is still slower even then.

And cellular is even less attractive when you have Starlink -- then you don't even need the towers. It's great for rural areas. But it's hardly going to have enough aggregate bandwidth to let all of New York City watch Netflix in 4K.

Starlink does require towers because the data has to be beamed back to the ground. The more bandwidth you serve in an area, the more towers you need. However, in areas with low bandwidth demands where cellular towers are currently as dense as they are in order to reach every part of the area, Starlink does make sense.

Starlink, Cellular and ground based internet serve different points on the density /mobility curve.

> Starlink does require towers because the data has to be beamed back to the ground. The more bandwidth you serve in an area, the more towers you need.

That's a ground station, not towers. The "towers" are the satellites. And the number of grounds stations you need doesn't really have much to do with how much bandwidth you use, because they can use directional wireless or laser communications at higher power levels than ordinary devices, so they're not the bottleneck.

The reason to have a large number of ground stations is so that there is one within range no matter where a satellite is. But they have plans to build an inter-satellite mesh that would remove that requirement as well:


In principle if they wanted to serve a higher density area they would need more satellites so they could each cover less area, but that's not really its purpose. Dense areas can more than justify a fiber network. What the satellites get you is world-wide coverage from one network, particularly including the places that don't have existing coverage because their density is too low.

And the combination of that doesn't leave much left for cellular to do. You have a very high bandwidth fiber connection at home, at work, backing the wifi in any kind of a hotel or coffee house, and then Starlink for when you're in a rural area or in a car and you want to look at a map but aren't near any of those. What's left for cellular?

> And the combination of that doesn't leave much left for cellular to do.

you know how big the starlink antennas are? They don't fit in smartphones, not the directional ones.

Probably fit on your car though, which then gives you a hotspot for your phone wherever you are.

I suppose if you're out in the middle of nowhere away from both any building with fiber and any vehicle with Starlink then cellular might be useful, both those are also the kind of places without any cell reception.

Currently not every building's WiFi is accessible to you. Second, WiFi only has a limited range. If your house is at the edge of settlement for example and you take a walk in nature (or just the nearest park!), you won't get any WiFi after the first dozen meters. That area may very well be covered by cellular though. Cellular has a much higher range and will still be very important.

I'm currently using a Netgear LB1121 with external antennas connected to AT&T's 4G network. It's maybe a smidge better than DSL, but not definitively so. Both throughput and latency are all over the map (2-sigma 1 to 70 mbps, 30-60 ms). I don't get a publicly-routable IP. So instead I have to buy another service and expend a bunch of IT-administration mental energy to use a VPS just so I can SSH home.

The basic rules of radio propagation should make it obvious to anyone that something like satellite (or even terrestrial) RF links will never achieve the density of fiber. And like power lines, they'll be something we run once and then occasionally fix for many decades. That may be too expensive in some parts of the country, but around here the argument rings hollow.

But you're right. It may be good enough for now. I just don't think it'll be good enough for decades.

I'm curious, do you get non-screwed-with service? Try curling any IP on port 80; they seem to proxy everything, from web to TLS handshakes.

It lives behind NAT, so I can't host anything. But it seemed to be unmolested. That said, I couldn't handle the NAT and decided to bounce all of my traffic off of a Vultr VPS. That comes with its own problems, like lots of websites (e.g. Vimeo) thinking I'm a bot and blocking me.

> ... government nationalizing telecommunications networks...

Is that extreme the only other option we can imagine? In Texas, for example, the power transmission lines are managed by the Electric Reliability Council [1], and treated as kind of a "electricity market".

[1] http://www.ercot.com/

As opposed to the monopolies which have contributed innovations such as quotas, pay for play internet and snooping.

We have a private system, and already the quality is low. I live in the second largest city in the U.S. and I can only get spectrum "100mbps" in my building. Nothing I can do, the building is wired for spectrum. 4G reception is even worse, constantly drops.

Not true at all. There has never been nationalized telecommunications in America, ever. Gets your facts straight.

You are correct, I misremembered. However I don't think there is really much of a difference in this case since the federal government chose one company.

Some utilities should be heavily regulated, or even owned by the state. Internet access is one of them. Everything else is just "deregulate everything 'Murica" propaganda

> customers could only have one brand of phone.

Don't most areas of the US only have one cable / internet company? I live in a major city and we have 2 choices.

It's a very wide guess to pick technological advances and attribute to one segment.

It's not like the non-telecom segments were flying cars in the 50s.

See Telmex for how bad it gets..

I used to think municipal fiber was the answer to improve internet service, but while it may work, I've seen that it is certainly not the only way.

I moved to Berkeley for university and there are several competing options for gigabit internet (including Sonic, LMI, etc.). When the gigabit service arrived to disrupt the AT&T/Comcast duopoly, suddenly the customer was important, and we were able to get great speeds, prices, and customer service.

What I'm saying is that you don't necessarily need to make internet a public utility to improve service, just to get some real competition. If that competition needs to come in the form of municipal fiber, then that might also work, but it could also be a private company.

>What I'm saying is that you don't necessarily need to make internet a public utility to improve service, just to get some real competition.

You won't get competition in sparsely populated areas. There's not a ton of business sense to expand and try to compete in these markets.

The alternative way to get build-out in the underserved areas is to have gov subsidize a few interests. Canada seems have done a good job getting cell coverage in the middle of nowhere paying Rogers and Bell/Telus to build in remote lands. The US usually gives build-out requirements for stuff like spectrum and then doesn't enforce them when a company like DISH runs a scam: https://www.forbes.com/sites/fredcampbell/2018/07/20/dish-ne...

DISH btw is in full PR mode lending all their AWS-4 spectrum to AT&T and all their 600mhz to T-Mobile, since they previously didn't do shit with it.

In the case of the landline internet providers, there's around a half-trillion USD tax scam that's been perpetuated since the 1990's: https://www.reddit.com/r/explainlikeimfive/comments/6c5e97/e...

More competition is really important for driving down the price and improving the quality of internet supply, however there is still a case for entry level public internet access. You could easily imagine a very slow internet connection (like 1995 level speeds) being supplied by cities as a basic service to help bridge the digital divide and provide basic access to people in need.

Left the East Bay a couple of years ago - I was very happy with LMI while I was there. Thumbs up for their service and staff.

I'm not sure that I want the government in a position to be a single point of control for which websites I can or cannot access.

This is a blatant violation of the 1st amendment. You are at more risk of this from private entities, who are not bound by the 1st amendment.

Perhaps. Competition is a realtime mechanism for stopping this sort of fuckery on a provider level presently. I can switch ISPs immediately (provided that there is more than one around).

Remediations for 1A violations are anything but realtime.

You could suffer rights abuses for a very long time with no immediate or cost-effective recourse. Also, such a circumstance in which your 1A rights are violated by your government ISP, which may be eventually protected by courts, remains inherently dangerous for example during declared periods of emergency where the usual rights and remedies are "temporarily" (weeks or months) suspended. Imagine the situation were this the case right now, and your government ISP disconnects you today (let's say on some bogus "local" authority). How long do you think it would be before the thing winds its way through the courts and your port finally gets ordered to be turned back on? A month? Three months? Six?

How much money has it cost you in legal fees? How many dollars did you lose from not being able to work in that time due to being entirely offline?

I don't trust any one player being the "only game in town" no matter who they are or what remedies I have against them. Making it state-run means that not only are they the only game in town (like Comcast is now in a lot of places), but that it's impossible to change that situation. It makes it permanent. We need more competition, not less. More opportunity for more people to create businesses and jobs, not less.

I think the people of Flint should be able to chime in on this thread.

As a counterexample, authoritarian regimes in countries with private ISPs have cut off or filtered internet access by fiat. A private ISP isn't magically exempt from government demands. I believe Turkey is a recent example of this.

Iran is a particularly good one. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_Iran)

> Every ISP must be approved by both the Telecommunication Company of Iran (TCI) and the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, and must implement content-control software for websites and e-mail.

More competition in physical last mile infrastructure just isn't feasible given the costs. A single physical provider (ie fiber as a utility) with legislated common access (ie ISP competition) has worked out quite well for the rest of the western world.

>> I can switch ISPs immediately (provided that there is more than one around).

You may want to look at what percentage of America has this kind of choice (and whether it is a choice between viable and high quality alternatives, as opposed to ones that are equally shitty).

Most places without options are where those localities gave a monopoly to a single company -- so that they would subsidize rural people. In the US we need to stop subsidizing the costs of living in the middle of nowhere. Mail, electricity, phone, etc should all cost substantially more - it should reflect the cost of living there.

I understand that the situation is dire. I'm saying we need more options, not fewer.

What we basically have now is a government monopoly network that happens to be Comcast branded. It's bad.

There are numerous content restrictions on broadcast television that have been found legal despite the 1st amendment.

Absolutely nothing about public internet in any way implies anything even remotely related to your strawman argument.

> nothing about public internet in any way implies anything even remotely related to your strawman argument

Why not? If the government has a monopoly on internet access, it becomes easier for voters to call for certain sites being blocked or certain sorts of traffic be monitored and/or intercepted.

If we're playing that game, there's a million things they could do as well, but it doesn't make any of them likely. Hell, they could do what you're talking about right now, other countries do that even though their Internet access isn't controlled by the government. The porn ban in the UK is a great example of privately-controlled ISPs being forced to block certain sites.

I'll repeat, there is absolutely nothing about publicly funded Internet service that in any way even remotely connects "internet access as a public utility" to "government starts blocking certain sites". They could do it right now if they wanted to.

The porn ban didn't happen. Even with the "don't go to the pirate bay or we send you a nasty letter" legislation, they stop bothering doing that because nobody paid any attention and threw the letter in the bin.

The only thing stopping them now is the first amendment. That doesn't change depending on ownership. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for a wider deeper interpretation of 1A. But it's not relevant to this matter really...

A private company has to comply with all governmental laws and regulations. If the government wants something banned, they can just create a law that lets them do that. They've already demonstrated that they can easily do that with the patriot act.

I think this makes perfect sense. Competition fundamentally doesn't work when it comes to infrastructure like this. I don't hear anyone saying that we need more privatized competition in our sewer systems. Why? Because it's incredibly costly to build and having private companies build two, three, or more sewer systems in one city/town would be insane. The costs per user of each one of those systems would rise dramatically because you would have far fewer people paying into each system. Same goes for our internet connections. Creating multiple competing networks in this case raises prices for everyone and we needlessly duplicate the amount of infrastructure required to serve everyone. That is why we make services like sewer, water, and electricity regulated monopolies. I don't see how internet, in this day in age, is any different. Just like everyone needs electricity, everyone needs internet. That being said, we do need competent government officials that can balance costs with public good. If we elect incompetent people, we get incompetent results.

There are a lot of places where I agree that it should. There are some cities where competition is alive and working well. I think at least we can agree that state governments should not be making it illegal for local communities to create public utility internet, as has been happening in some places.

The internet needs to have a free service tier, that can be given to under privileged people.

The entire government runs on web services, and you must have a decent computer to access it, as well as high speed internet.

Well, some basic cable internet services cost $70/month. That’s over $840/year.

Good grief! How does someone making $40,000/year afford such an expensive luxury?

On top of paying for rent, for food, for transportation, for a phone line, and now, for internet too. This is just too heavy of a burden to bear for under privileged people. Those who are younger, those who are minorities, those who are women that earn less.

The greed of corporate America is quite disgusting, and of our elected politicians that work in collusion with them, to prevent such free public services from being made available.

My question is, what would be the impact on the following areas if the internet was public utility?

1) security/encryption

2) bandwidth distribution

3) content freedom

4) Governance rules (federal gov?)

Why would 1) be an issue at all of the service was a public utility or not? It's not like a website will not use HTTPS just because it's on publicUtil.

2) is problem regardless. Something to be addressed, but it's not anything new just because it's becomes a utility.

I could see where 3) & 4) might be questionable. If it's gov't funded, then they like to tack on a lot of rules about what can/can't be used on the service. Obvious things like porn/p2p/etc would be blocked, but would access to things like Planned Parenthood be blocked too?

In the US, 3 (content freedom) is a clear first amendment guarantee. It also seems to be working out just fine elsewhere in the western world.

My opinions, this all depends on the unknowable future, and utilities are typically regulated at the state level, so the answer will vary by state.

1) Probably about the same. I suspect law enforcement might end up with “easier” access (mostly because inter agency processes will be put in place) but the regulated ISP will be less able to do silly things like MITM 404 responses to thier search engine/ad page. Intel is a big question mark, but heck, it seems like they have just about everything already. 2) Better for underserved communities, possibly worse in the long term for everyone else. The closest existing utility, electricity, hasn’t seen anywhere near the same rate of change in consumption as bandwidth has. Once the utility level requirement is set for bandwidth it’s going to be hard to increase. 3) probably better, first amendment protection would still apply to individuals, while the quasi government status off utilities would make it harder for them to argue for any sort of “editorial control.” 4) Utilities are typically regulated at the state or local level. My local water district has to adhere to federal laws, but most of their governance is very local

The 1st amendment goes out the window in times of “national security”. The government will censor things if they believe its for the best interest of national security, which can be many things and anytime they want.

Those are almost all big issues with private companies too, and you get no vote in them and weaker constitutional protections.

It is less of an issue if there is lots of competition (that doesn't collude) though.

You already know the answer based on the history of repressive regimes that have monopolies on telecom systems.

Depends how we do it.

What if the infrastructure was government owned but you bought service through a reseller. This is the US cell phone model for many carriers. Also old school AOL / dial-up style. Perhaps your reseller provides your modem/router (or states what modems(/+router) you can configure for their service)

Want everything managed for you? Get AOL. They send you a box, it had their configurations and management tools so they can monitor your traffic and ensure good service... Read your emails, whatever. You had a thousand options and trusted this provider.

Want a security focused provider? Sign up for one that provides a setup that VPNs traffic to your specification. You had 30 different options here, so you pick the right balance for you.

Want to trust the government and just pass through? Will that might not be allowed... But someone will probably provide you an option for bare minimum pricing.

With these options, perhaps you get your government provided service, but if there's issues you get support through that private entity that escalates issues or perhaps does doorstop support (or remote testing) and then they escalate to government-run infrastructure system. If the government needs work done, they contract out work to a vendor appropriate for the type of work and area of the service request (assuming the issues is outside the home.. inside the home is on your reseller).

NOT saying this is the way to go, just that this is an option for public-private partnership.

With this style of service, the fiber will probably have issues, but how often does a bridge actually collapse and not get cleaned up/ fixed? Currently we play hot potato with decaying lines, selling the infrastructure praying they're not holding the asset when it actually fails massively.

In response to your questions: 1) if you want security/encryption, this model could allow you to get that by your ISP through the in-home equipment. 2) let people buy bandwidth plans, your ISP marks it up for their service and support fee, and passes it to you. Government could adjust what's available based on the capacity of the area/infrastructure with the same options being available regardless of your ISP. If you're a business and you need more than what a single fiber line can provide, perhaps offer an additional service to run additional lines with additional costs. 3) traffic should be encrypted, so government can't see in the first place, but when if it wasn't.. if you're accessing illegal material they should have just cause.. and should then make a request to your ISP (much like they do to access your cell phone records). Pick an ISP that meets your morals/concerns. 4) not sure exactly what your mean here.. but given shouldn't be directly serving people. They have the mailmen driving to your house delivering packets hopefully in sealed safes... But your service provider (easy mode) or your personal hardware (advanced) handles opening the safe.

Again, this is a 30 minute free flowing thought. Not at all a proposal... Just an idea.

So I can't obviously "prove" any causality, that would require serious studies; but I can testify how things work here in France.

1) doesn't change anything. Mostly due to ISP practices, which are regulated under typical communication laws (this dates back to radio, landlines, post offices, etc)

2) bandwidth is generally great. The idea is this: you mutualize the pipes (shared by citizens through public organisms, and some private infrastructure / maintenance companies). Then all ISP invest together to build the best shared infrastructure; at which point any customer can just switch to any ISP at any time — you just unplug-replug in the locally shared DSLAM/PON/whatever.

FWIW we've got the same infra for elec, water, kitchen gas, even banking... you just hook up with another utility provider and they switch you within days, weeks at most (it's a manual intervention in many cases). Don't like your elec provider? Next month, you're out.

The net result is that we've got up to 1Gbps symmetrical for €40/mo (say $45), basic offers for e.g 250Mb at €10-20/mo maybe. There's even a 10Gbps network being deployed (at the routing level, it's mostly equipment) by one ISP, I got it and measured ~3.5Gbps max concurently (I'd rather have 1Gbps symmetrical since I've got servers though, self-hosting is a very real possibility with such bandwidth; all IPs are full stack on demand here (all ports, no sub-1024 shenanigans) unless you're on budget offers.

3) that's freedom of speech most likely (e.g porn is legal... nobody questions that). Also ties to GDPR now, on the source side. We've had such laws in France for two decades now, look up the CNIL. Nothing to report here, ISPs would be fined if not respecting a modicus of neutrality — but there's no data cap on home connections whatsoever, so it's not comparable to the US situation. In the past (DSL era) we observed some early / prime time throttling of selected websites (e.g YouTube) by a certain ISP who was "at war" with Google (so, that was a choice, not a factor of infrastructure).

4) See 2. It's all private but there's gov oversight and regulation to maintain access. For instance, you can't cut internet to poor people, unemployed etc. here: we've determined it's too important to have internet access to find a job and do basic admin stuff (pretty much all state services are now online). That's the real value of internet as a commodity: it's a matter of "can you leave a household without electricity? without water? without internet?", the answer being a resounding "no" because that's inhumane, that's attacking their dignity and our decency. The question thus becomes, how much of it do we 'guarantee' to everyone, like basic healthcare. The answer here in France is: enough to live decently, enough to keep functioning as a normal member of society, notably to get a job (or keep it) and have a social life (we've found that depression doesn't help anyone).

Honestly, none of it is perfect, but as far as internet goes, yeah we've nailed it. I don't know of any better offer for the price (many Asian countries have a better infra, but costs are 2-3x for customers).

At the very least, municipal "dark fiber" [1] broadband should be more of a thing.

I live in a city in Northern Europe and we have it in pretty much all apartment buildings here.

I can choose between 17 different ISPs and the prices per month are:

    Price  Speed (up/down) 
     $20      10 Mb/s
     $30     100 Mb/s
     $75       1 Gb/s
    $142      10 Gb/s
If you live in the country-side though, you sadly tend to have much more limited options for a decent Internet connection.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_fibre

$142 for 10Gb/s? Mine costs $95 per month in Mountain View, CA.

... or it should be cheap and regulated on pricing. it is crime what western nations charge for it. suppose areas of differing income levels should have different pricing schemes. coming from russia to canada, it is insane that you have to pay 1500% more for same packages for wireless and wired internet.

But in turn, the income of average Russians is 1500% less than in the western nations so the ratio we pay here is adequate.

Besides, Russia has good internet only in major cities (>1,000,000 million residents) with residents living in high-rise buildings (like NYC) so the distance and the cost to lay the cables is minimal. Now compare that to a single-family residences in California and you see the argument is false.

P.S. Russians making $200 per month are officially considered middle-class in Russia.

> Besides, Russia has good internet only in major cities

This is just plain not true.

Thanks to not having idiotic ideas like making internet a public utilily among other things.

Competition accomplishes the same thing. Look at any area where Comcast or AT&T have competition, they shape up very quickly. DOCSIS 3.0 and 3.1 are actually very fast. Cable companies know however that if the better the internet they sell, the more they canabalize their ability to sell cable TV. They want to sell you data twice and one of their giant sources of revenue is something people would rather leave behind.

Competition does help when it happens. The problem is Comcast and AT&T charge higher prices wherever there is no competition and they actively do whatever they can to prevent competition, they absolutely do not just wait around for other ISPs to compete. A few years ago Comcast’s active anti-competitive bullying of local ISPs in my city pushed me off the ISP I preferred. And there are too many areas in the U.S. where competing is prohibitive, like rural areas where build-out is more expensive, so once a single ISP is there nobody else bothers.

I think this is how utilities evolved in many places- local monopolies arose, so local governments either built their own system, took over service delivery or created laws on top of the service delivery.

I don't understand this part. As far as I can tell, utility monopolies can only form with government assistance (i.e. lobbying).

What is making you think that monopolies can only occur with government action? The first utility to service a region is a de-facto monopoly. I also gave two examples already of ways monopolies have occurred without government intervention: anti-competitive behavior and barriers to entry. Monopolies without government intervention are common enough that there’s a term for it: Natural Monopoly https://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/natural_monopoly.asp

That article gives more examples of ways monopolies occur without government intervention, such as mergers and takeovers, and collusion and price fixing. All of these things have happened multiple times in the past, so history provides all the proof we need that lobbying or other government assistance is not required for monopolies to form.

Thanks for this

That's my point. Instead of having a government regulate a monopoly, if government is going to intervene it should be to allow others to compete first.

Ah, I see. It looks like that is happening in some locales, at least according to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_in_the_United_States#...

Unfortunately competition still doesn’t always work, because crafty companies know how to fix prices without explicitly colluding - witness the insulin market, for example. I don’t particularly believe that my cell phone plan prices are the result of providers competing on price, it often seems more like a silent unspoken agreement among the providers to not lower the prices, which in addition to insulin has happened in lots of other markets.

If there is municipal internet, it should set a price that is sustainable but forces other ISPs to compete. Also competition doesn't only mean two of the same thing. More competition helps in general, even when the number of ISPs seems redundant.

what I know about US is that localities allow for 1-2 providers to run cables, wonder if similar thing is in place in Canada. So while FTC can make noises, nature of anticompetitive pricing is very antifragile.

Has the author never heard of the Lifeline Program for Low-Income Consumers (aka Obamaphones)? This program already provides a benefit designed to provide free access to mobile internet. The $10 per month subsidy may not seem like much, but it'll buy you ~1Gb per month via Tracfone, for example. It's important to note that this program includes a requirement that "Obamaphones" be hot-spot enabled so that they can be used with laptops (i.e. by kids who have homework on school-provided laptops).


I've had that and a major issue is that the $10/month covers both phone and internet, not just internet. The combined plan I had was supposed to include 500MB per month internet but I'm fairly sure hot-spot was not enabled and direct tethering was certainly not enabled. Also the phones are extremely locked down and don't even allow USB audio devices. The $10/month can be used towards a more expensive plan which is what the providers would really prefer that you do. There are obviously corrupt limitations like a six month (at least, maybe longer?) waiting period between services if you want to change data plans (this does not apply to phone service). There are $10/month DSL plans available in my area but it is extremely slow, maybe 2mbps I think. The phones have some security issues; a six digit numerical PIN is all that protects full call records and the ability to change devices for the Virgin plan I was on.

Lifeline is better than nothing when needed but there are reasons it is still mostly used for phone access. It seems like a fairly corrupt program.

Lifeline currently pays separate subsidies for voice and data, see the link from my first post.

The quality of device has nothing to do with lifeline, which is device agnostic. The author's stated solution is also device agnostic.

As for concerns about bandwidth, they're kind of bunk, IMO. The argument by the author is that basic internet access is necessary to function in today's world, and Lifeline already exists for the express purpose of meeting that that need. A free-tier service doesn't have to be Netflix-friendly to be a success.

I think the issues you're attributing to corruption are just as easily explained by the low cost of the service. Whenever you're consuming a service at the lowest possible price point on the market, your experience will very likely be worse than the average, curruption or no.

I do agree with your main point that the author should have discussed Lifeline.

The specific Lifeline mobile plans that are $10/month require use of the provided device (or in some cases a very limited number of specific alternative devices sold by the plan provider). It is true that you can apply the credit toward other phone or internet service but then it will cost you something in addition to the lifeline credit (I don't remember if the low speed DSL option required using the provided device, possibly not, and landline phone wouldn't require a particular device, but I don't think any mobile phone plan for $10/month is device agnostic).

Read the first paragraph of your link again under "how it works". It is a single $10/month subsidy that can go to voice, data, or a combination plan. I did see after posting that the current version of the plan I was on offers 3Gb data per month so that would be quite useful (hopefully tethering works now).

However, one reason I call it corruption is that plan changes do not apply to anyone who already has the service, so people who have been using it for a while need to pay for what others get as part of the plan. Unless you switch providers, which is what the limitation on switching data plans prevents. I would understand a limitation on how frequently you can change providers since devices are provided, however the restriction applies after service ends.

1GB/mo = 385B/s = 3086b/s

Average 3kb/s.

Yes, one tends to use data in bursts. Bracketing helps understand usage.

1G is not enough. Dial-up would let you get more.

> 1G is not enough. Dial-up would let you get more.

Yep, a lot more.

    (56 kbps) * 1 month = 18.4082068 gigabytes

The author isn't arguing that people need access to the internet so that they can binge Netflix or venture down the YouTube rabbithole. The tug-at-the-heart-strings examples that the author used to justify her pet project are all easily fulfilled with 1GB per month.

I'd measure using Wikipedia as one of the most used resources worldwide. Currently, loading https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coronavirus_disease_2019 once with warm cache transfers 1.3MB. Single Google search takes just short of 1MB. At this rate 1GB will run out pretty quickly.

A program that isn’t available to everyone and is routinely under fire. It also doesn’t solve the underlying problem, but instead throws money at the companies exacerbating it for profit. Broadly available, competitive broadband is the answer.

> It also doesn’t solve the underlying problem, but instead throws money at the companies exacerbating it for profit

Quite similar to Obama's approach to healthcare, what a coincidence! :-)

The better choice - replacing private provisioning for basic healthcare coverage with a public service - was not politically viable. Sometimes you have to make a suboptimal choice for the greater good.

True. But the root cause of the problem is the influence of the insurance/pharma industries on our legislative system.

Pretty sure Obama was smart enough to see that. Did he do anything about it?

Like what, change the Constitution to alter the First Amendment? That's not something within the President's powers.

The president has a loud microphone, but I didn't hear a peep on this subject.. he could have called out the blatantly corrupt legislators.

Everyone loves their Congressperson; nobody loves Congress. And it is not inherently corrupt to leave your door open to listen to feedback.

Just on a massively larger scale.

I am mildly concerned about the internet being a requrement for participating in society. The utility argument makes sense but people should also keep in mind, not having internet access should not exclude anyone from things like food,safe shelter,clothing,property ownership,trade and employment. Inconvenienced? Sure. Pay reasonable extra costs for having to do things offline? Why not. But let's not go full on dystopian like China here. The cure should not be worse than the disease!

In order for anything useful to happen in our society, we have to vote. It is now abundantly clear which party values what, and for whom. If we would rather vote based on 'abortion preventing our souls from partying with Jesus in heaven' instead of 'municipal broadband for all residents as a public utility', then we're going to continue to complain about this for another 50 years and beyond.

The problem is that saying this out loud means you're politicizing this problem. Well, it's largely a political problem, otherwise we could get the Federal Government to step in and properly fix this. Legislation in the past with the best intensions was purposely weakened at the last moment to allow billions to be taken from Federal programs that left zero actual improvement or infrastructure development. Guess which party is fighting hardest for such loopholes and promising that corporations can do this better than "big government"?

If we don't get our acts together in November, not having quality Internet access is going to be the least of our problems. Anyway, everyone enjoy going back to business as normal by Easter during the peak of this pandemic. I'm sure that will help as well.

> It is now abundantly clear which party values what, and for whom. If we would rather vote based on 'abortion preventing our souls from partying with Jesus in heaven' instead of 'municipal broadband for all residents as a public utility', then we're going to continue to complain about this for another 50 years and beyond.

If that were true, it'd be great. But which is the party that supports municipal broadband for all residents as a public utility? California has a Democratic governor, Democratic legislature, and in the most populous areas Democratic local government, and yet no municipal broadband.

There's a map here of which state legislatures have passed restrictions on municipal broadband, and it seems pretty idiosyncratic relative to blue/red politics: https://broadbandnow.com/report/municipal-broadband-roadbloc... E.g. WV, OH, IN, IL, KY, GA, NM, VT are friendly to it, while WA, OR, TX, CO, AL, PA, FL, MA are unfriendly.

Single-issue voters don't vote straight party tickets. You have to learn about the individual candidates and only vote for the ones that support your pet issue.

The mayor in this story probably didn't care much either way about municipal broadband. They just don't see it as an issue worth the effort.

If there were a real chance that not supporting municipal broadband would hurt their re-election chances, they'd be more likely to support it. If not, perhaps their successor would see things differently.

NC is missing from the unfriendly list. I believe it was time warner cable who bribed the state legislature a bit over a decade ago, and again recently. By the legislature i mean almost everyone in one party, and a few in the other. They are of course the only viable ISP in much of the state, though now they go by spectrum because of the constant unchecked mergers. They are worse than ever.

It's true municipal broadband is spreading in all kinds of districts, but in places where it's being debated one particular party always sides with the telecoms. Lets not forget their appointee ajit pai.


> If that were true, it'd be great. But which is the party that supports municipal broadband for all residents as a public utility? California has a Democratic governor, Democratic legislature, and in the most populous areas Democratic local government, and yet no municipal broadband.

California politics is a clusterfuck of epic proportions because of systemic deficiencies so I'd caution against taking any conclusions from it, even though on paper one party has had near total control for decades. The major bills like budgets and taxes require a 2/3 supermajority and until independent redistricting was implemented, any sort of progress on those issues required capitulating to a small number of gerrymandered districts that tended to produce extremist politicians (relative to their demographics). I'm not talking about districts in Fresno or something, but several right in the middle of Orange County. Passing a budget in California used to be a year round job of porkbarelling and horse trading for a significant fraction of the legislature.

Once the FCC introduced net neutrality rules, no one felt it was worth the effort to revisit the rules that limited municipalities from establishing ISPs. Trump really galvanized the party in CA but now, the state is a battleground between the "neoliberal" and "progressive" factions which are both ostensibly Democrats but have fundamentally different views on the free market's place in society. Even though a lot of the "read my lips, no new taxes" types are out, there is still a fundamental philosophical difference within the party that requires compromise and politics moves slowly.

That said, (late?) last year CA won a major ruling against the FCC (remains to be seen what the Supreme Court will say) that allows it to diverge from FCC regulations so expect a lot more progress once the list of high priority items shrinks.

> " If we would rather vote based on 'abortion preventing our souls from partying with Jesus in heaven' instead of 'municipal broadband for all residents as a public utility', then we're going to continue to complain about this for another 50 years and beyond."

I really think this is not a useful simplification of the various policy positions of the major voting blocs in the US. I think there is a lot of nuance and if we start to reduce the arguments we risk making a caricature of some of the positions out there.

The two political parties are already caricatures. Of course it’s a gross simplification, but participation means being forced into those by the procrustean American voting system.

While I agree with (some) of what you said, you should know that it was the Telecommunications ACT during the Clinton presidency that created these huge monopoly’s and destroyed all the smaller telecoms and choices back in the mid 90’s.

> It is now abundantly clear which party values what

The problem is you only (effectively) have two of those. Many other democracies use proportional elections instead of first past the post, which generally results in a more diverse party landscape which in turn makes it easier to pick a party that aligns more closely with multiple of your personal preferences instead of one.

The party abstraction is incredibly lossy for people who don't slot all their preferences into the same bucket along a single axis. So having only two of those makes things even worse.

It also prevents the political landscape from shifting much since there are fewer players at the margins.

This weekend here in Los Angeles is the Native Plant Garden Tour [1] which is in its 17th year but being presented this year as a virtual tour.

The quality from the gardeners streaming video over their home Wifi connections is sometimes okay, mostly mediocre, sometimes unwatchable. Of course this is somewhat affected by how far they venture away from their router into their yard, but still it's surprising how universally awful internet service is even in major US cities. And it's so much worse in rural areas.

[1] https://www.nativeplantgardentour.org/

Imagine wanting the government to be your ISP. You think private companies mishandle your privacy? Wait until the government has total access to what you do online without warrants. Try putting that genie back in the bottle. Remember, these are the same people whose competence is manifested in pretending the water in Flint wasn’t toxic, intentionally infecting blacks with Syphilis and not treating them, and giving LSD to school children.

Here's a question I have about these types of frustrating monopolies, and I'd love a point towards a book or something that can explain.

Let's say I have a bunch of money (or funding) for a big new internet provider that could easily outperform the existing provider. What makes it so hard to do it?

I hear complaints (and complain myself) about seemingly unfair pricing and slow speeds. The tech is there to make > 100mb internet, why isn't it more widespread? Surely consumers are willing to pay for a competitor that can provide it.

1) laying fiber (either trenched or on utility poles) will likely be your biggest expense, it requires a huge, huge investment to be able to put infrastructure through a significant area. Think about feet of conduit a several-person crew can drive per day whether by trenching/trenchless methods - it's not that many. Microtrenching promised to significantly reduce this cost but Google Fiber's experiment with it went famously poorly.

2) ROWs to run cable will need to be negotiated either with the municipality (if laying underground) which can come with a lot of difficult restrictions on work quality, traffic disruption, etc, or with the electrical utility in the case of utility poles in an area with a typical franchise agreement, in which case the utilities are often uninterested in the project and will just generally make your life difficult through slow consideration of engineering proposals, requiring extensive up-front engineering work, etc. In a small town I had some involvement in the electric utility demanded over $1mm up front for engineering surveys on pole attachment - this for a market of ~8k people, and before any actual attachment fees. Completely blew the budget of the potential broadband provider which had planned a total of $3-4mm in up-front.

3) After running infrastructure, providing drops to each house is a fairly costly and disruptive up-front operation per customer (may even be trenching their front yard), which discourages customers signing up with your service when the incumbent providers already have house drops in place. You will also either have to eat this cost or pass it to the customer as an install fee or a term agreement, all of those options are bad in different ways.

4) IPv4 exhaustion has hit new ISPs hard and you are going to have to do CG-NAT. ISPs like to think customers don't care but in practice this is indeed a headache.

I looked up microtrenching and it looks like they're basically stopping traffic and pointing an angle grinder straight down. Directional boring machines are out there, why aren't we running a bunch of those 24/7? Do they need a lot of supervision?

While the range of directional trenching is limited, requiring regular access points, the bigger issue is setup. Surveys and tests need to be done to determine if the area is suitable for directional trenching, and it only works well in certain circumstances. It's definitely heavily used in telecom installation but not a panacea.

Microtrenching is extremely simple and fast, but so far I don't know that anyone has nailed durability. Google's Louisville install used microtrenching and was an absolute debacle with the sealant constantly failing and the cables ending up laying on the surface of the pavement. Google ended up shutting down service in Louisville and the cost of repairing the failed microtrenching may have been a big reason why. Certainly get them a lot of bad press and ill will from their customer base.

My internet provider uses another bigger telco's network for the "last mile" connection and they have cheaper prices as a result.

Now, if they were to run their own fiber and install their own equipment in telephone poles, that would mean a significant investment. Would they be able to recoup their investment while staying cheaper than competitors? Maybe in denser places (appartment complex come to mind) but in suburban areas, this is doubtful.

Agreed, but this article didn't convince me. Watching the Comcast/Verizon duopoly play out over two decades has overwhelmingly negated the argument for private-sector infrastructure.

If it's public infrastructure, the government has no incentive to innovate and it'll be a good way to ruin it. Electric, gas, and water utilities are natural monopolies and priced per usage. You'd end up paying more for slower internet.

Please show me where private run electric or gas utilities have unlimited usage for a flat fee.

There’s none for obvious reasons. Give me an example of a government making the internet a public utility and making it better and less censored than a privately run company.

Chattanooga’s municipally-owned telecoms provider (EPB) is charging $57.99 for 300mbs [0], while I get 500mbs for $39.99 in my area from a non-city owned company [1]

[0] https://epb.com/home-store/internet [1] https://frontier.com/offer/experiencefios-c

You really can't compare across areas. I can get 20 mbps DSL for $50 here. At my old place, eight miles away, I could get 1000 mbps for $90. At my parents' lake cabin in Tennessee they can get 3 mbps for $50. And?

Almost every place offering municipal FTTH/FTTN? I guess it’s a wash if you’re comparing it to a top-tier Indy provider like Sonic or Webpass, but compared to AT&T and Comcast, they’re all better.

If it was, there would be no starlink

For much of the same reasons, the postal service and Amazon should be public utilities too.

The postal service in the US is a public utility: the US Post Office is required by law to deliver to any US address. The fact that there are private companies delivering something called "mail" does not change that: none of them are permitted to deliver first class mail, that is a USPS monopoly, and none of them are required to deliver to all US addresses, but the USPS is.

I don't know why you would want Amazon to be a public utility.

Yes, in the US that's the case but nobody said it will never change.

Regarding Amazon, see for example https://stallman.org/amazon.html#size

The local government should own the "pipes" and rent them out.

Some people are down on "socialism" without realizing they love it. We have socialized police, fire, sewage, (usually) water and road repair plus some others I'm forgetting.

Socialism is people getting together to help each other. Businesses have no special right to view citizens as their exclusive feeding ground.

A few places in the U.S. do already have this system and it works well. The city owns the fiber optic links between your house and a central office, but you get to choose your own ISP (often from dozens of options).

> The local government should own the "pipes" and rent them out.

This is essentially what happens in the UK. BT have to rent out lines to everyone else.

Guess what? Almost all the ISPs are capped at the speed at whatever BT can provide. The only company I believe in the UK that goes above those speeds is Virgin which almost twice the speed at almost the same price as the competition.

I used to live in the countryside and until there was fibre installed the speeds were terrible (less than 2mb/s). State own broadband isn't magically better.

> Some people are down on "socialism" without realizing they love it. We have socialized police, fire, sewage, (usually) water and road repair plus some others I'm forgetting.

In the UK our council tax pay are supposed to pay for road repair. The roads in the UK are awful. There are pot holes everywhere and I've had 3 punctures last year.

The toll roads (the few of them that exist in the UK) don't have anyone on them. Take 30 minutes a day off my journey time in the car and the road surface is perfect.

> The roads in the UK are awful.

Not in my experience, though admittedly I live in London.

>In the UK our council tax pay are supposed to pay for road repair.

I'm sure you realize that council tax is supposed to pay for a lot of things, and that council incomes are way down over the past 10 years.

> Not in my experience, though admittedly I live in London.

Well outside of London it is generally awful. TBH London might as well be another planet when compared to the rest of the England (same goes for Manchester and Birmingham, I stay far away).



I currently live near Manchester and before that Hampshire. So that is two opposite ends of the country pretty much and it is the problem there. So my experience seems to reflect that of what is reported.

>I'm sure you realize that council tax is supposed to pay for a lot of things, and that council incomes are way down over the past 10 years.

So? It has been like this since the late 90s. I remember my father complaining about it since then. In anycase the roads are awful.

So, we should have PG&E run it? Or maybe the city of Flint, Michigan?

God no.

That’s what happens when you make the decision to be a utility. You give up all choice.

The solution is more choice in the internet market, not less.

Need to start naming and shaming any public figures, companies, and politicians who say otherwise. That’s the only way to fight against the corporate takeover attempt.

> corporate takeover attempt

Sadly, I think the takeover has happened already, and there's not enough incentive for public figures, companies, and politicians to push for deprivatization.

I agree with the article that the Internet should be a public utility, like water or electricity.

I know what you’re saying and I hear you but I think the “it’s already over we should just give up” attitude that comes up whenever these types of discussions arise is what causes them to win. The first step to reversing their influence is not viewing it as acceptable.

Paying more attention to local politics helps combat this. There are people trying to do good out there, they're just not getting all the attention like those at the federal level.

> “it’s already over we should just give up” attitude

I agree, thank you for pointing that out. I'm trying to fight this defeatist and cynical tendency in myself.

> The first step to reversing their influence is not viewing it as acceptable.

Right - as a form of local activism, I'll remember to voice my opinion on important matters, where the status quo is unacceptable.

I’m generally a libertarian, anti-bureaucracy type, but this is an issue I align with. Having the government provide the bulk of last mile dumb fiber seems to be the best way to move forward internet speeds.

Opponents always point towards the remarkable improvements in wireless internet speed, but those of us who understand the technology know it’s not a replacement for fiber. Why compare simple, vacuum packed download tests? Of course people don’t utilize their upload speed: it’s miserably slow! Of course they don’t use more bandwidth: they get charged an arm and a leg for it!

Another, simpler solution would be to have the government stop promulgating/supporting the lies regarding fictional competition spread by companies like Comcast. There are lots of places where you have only one or two options, but the large national incumbents who have the ear of regulators will lie and claim that there are three times as many. The government grants them their moat.

There are lots of people who would like to be ISPs (including municipalities) who simply aren't allowed to be, because the regulators and the large national ISPs have conspired to pass lots of regulation that outlaws any real competition. It's absolutely shameful.



>Of course people don’t utilize their upload speed: it’s miserably slow!

The average internet user's bandwidth usage is always going to be asymmetrical, since the average internet user is downloading a lot more than they produce. One or two streaming movies on something like Netflix (15% of worldwide downstream usage by itself) will completely blow away a few video calls.

Try to enumerate the use cases for high upload rates, and you find that most of them simply won't apply to most users.

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