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Study: 40.2% of Consumers Would Consider Switching to Municipal Broadband (reviews.com)
168 points by Reinhart 7 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 94 comments

I assume the percentage would be higher if it just showed an actual comparison of upload/download speeds, bandwidth caps, and price. This poll may be just showing whether the consumers even know what "municipal broadband" means.

Probably also colored with people's perceptions of how sticky "bundles" they already have for TV and phone are, how they would get their cable channels, etc.

It definitely strikes me as a low quality poll. Or, at least not enough information reported here.

I have Verizon Fios. The day-to-day service is fine and I get roughly what I pay for (200/200 for $39/month with an option to go quite a bit faster if I want to pay more).

But, I'd love to have some competition and downward price pressure. Don't much care if it's municipal or private, I just want an option.

And I live in a wealthy suburb and realize lots of people don't even have one good option. Heck, even within my zip, Fios isn't 100% available and the cable internet providers are universally awful.

200/200 for $39 in the US? You don't know how lucky you are!

I personally have gigabit up/down for $70/mo, but I would happily slash my rates to 200/200 for 50% off or so. However, I wouldn't want to go below 100 up/down for any amount of savings since at some point you're actually hurting download speeds for OS/game updates and 4k video.

Where in the US do you live? My only experience with Fios was in NYC, and the lowest rates I've seen there are around 60-70.

Northern VA. Not far from IAD. I think gigabit is about the same price as you. 200/200 is the lowest tier in this area.

Most neighborhoods that have Fios also have a cable internet provider, so there’s a little competition. But, not everywhere has Fios.

Its also hard to discount how much American's distrust the government. "Send all your data through a government owned server" is going to have a negative knee-jerk reaction from many/most people.

I like it because now my ISP is bound by the 1st amendment.

I mean you should have some level of reaction at the thought of being subjected to network policy set by the US government. Encryption isn't magic and you're still giving the gov't a huge amount of observeability and direct influence that they don't currently have.

If you believe that we'll get legislation that enforces that municipal broadband must be a content-neutral dumb pipe and not every legislature trying to stick their hands in it for all sorts of random initiatives then I have 7 perpendicular red lines I want to show you.

"set by the US government"

It's usually a city government, right? People generally seem to have more concerns with Federal, State, or County level governments. Not to say it isn't a concern, but cities seem less likely to engage in that sort of thing.

As far as I know, municipal broadband, not being federally run, isn't any more subject to federal inspection than any other broadband. I agree that mentioning the "government" vaguely in a poll out it would get the result someone anti-municipal broadband wanted.

Also I think the question is pointless without a real example to compare to. Because you would be silly not to switch to municipal broadband if you assumed that it would be faster, more reliable, and cheaper.

Surveys like these don't carry any useful information other than whether people who what municipal broadband is and their general view of government provided services.

I am super happy with my AT&T fiber in Houston. $60/month for gigabit, friendly union techs that came out the next day when I cut through the line in the wall by accident.

It bothers me that it's only available in the fancier (whiter) parts of the city, but I have no complaints about the service or price.

How in the world can someone "prefer their current provider" without something to compare against? I think in any kind of survey like this, I would like to see the actual questions that were asked.

I can imagine that some people would not prefer their current provider if their current provider is, say, Charter. I suspect people might willingly leap into a dark pit filled with who knows what over continuing with Charter.

Comcast was my only provider for 3 years. There were times I almost considered just canceling the contract and tethering on my phone because of how bad Comcast was.

I've been on Starlink for a few months. It's honestly been a pain in my ass, and nowhere near as reliable as Comcast. But I am being patient and waiting, because right now it's worth it to me just to tell Comcast to fuck right off. Starlink has been improving though quite a lot just since I got it... so I'll keep giving it time.

I thought starlink was for people living in rural areas with no real broadband alternatives.

Yeah, any place with comcast broadband is almost certainly a poor fit for Starlink due to the limited total bandwidth over a geographic region.

My parents' only option for broadband right now is mobile hotspots. Unless you count traditional satellite internet, which I do not.

So that tells you how someone feels about Comcast's "real broadband alternative"

I must be on some special list at Comcast. Every time I have had to deal with them lately for changing service or helping debug an outage their online chat has been extremely competent and solved the problem. Which is a big change from years ago.

Or Comcast.

How in the world can someone "prefer their current provider" without something to compare against?

Maybe they've had bad experiences dealing with other municipal services from their city. Or maybe they just think the act of switching will be a pain in the butt. I can imagine many of the answers boil down to "yes, give me anything but X" or "it's good enough please don't break it"

Not every city in America is terrible. I live in a city of ~250k, we have multiple competing cable companies here and we get very reliable, fast, gig internet for a good price.

In my childhood hometown they have muni internet. It started out great as it was cutting edge. They have barely upgraded in over a decade. It's crap and the cable company in town has largely won.

I also don't want the government tracking my internet history in any fashion. Too many government services could tie into knowledge about you and I want the government to have only the minimum information necessary to provide those services.

> Not every city in America is terrible.

Fine, but MANY are. In the past 5 years I've lived in two of America's biggest cities and only had one ISP to choose from.

> I also don't want the government tracking my internet history in any fashion. Too many government services could tie into knowledge about you and I want the government to have only the minimum information necessary to provide those services.

As if the government can't/doesn't already subpoena your ISP for this information.

That an ISP is municipal is hardly any sort of deciding factor on if government tracking has been welcomed into a given data service or not. Large private telecoms imho are both much more likely to be targeted and to cooperate.

> I also don't want the government tracking my internet history in any fashion.

The government already can compel your ISP to hand over that data.

I'm sure they can but there is a big difference between the two situations to me. One makes the data readily available. The other requires effort on behalf of the government on a case by case basis.

The data is currently readily available.

In the case of municipal broadband, you could vote for local politicians that are against dragnet surveillance.

Also, paradoxically, the 4th prevents the government from gathering data, but not purchasing it. In the case of municipal broadband, there is a strong argument to be made that you are constitutionally protected against invasive privacy policies, such as logging or selling personal information.

So you are saying we better willingly give data, since govt can anyway get it if they want?

In fact, yes. C.f. there many laws about mail tampering for the post office. When the government has to deal with the data in "normal, non-criminal" situations, and not just "special investigative" ones, there tends to be better safe-guards in place.

I don't think it's that they "prefer their current provider" it's that they prefer not to think about it or go through the hassle of changing. Like if someone got an oil change and it works for them every time and you sent them a flyer telling them there's a better place with better oil that's slightly cheaper. The product they buy serves their need and they don't want the work of having to try a new place out.

I'm not really surprised by this. In my old building, out of 6 units I was the only to get fiber and after a few years someone new moved in they were up to two people. I know for a fact 2 other units were work from home business sales folk who did regular video calls (even before covid) and they continued with comcast despite slower up/down at a higher price. In my new building again the same thing. This time 10 units, only myself and one other with fiber despite the same issues. Even with multiple household having a very compelling reason to switch (work from home and home schooling).

I asked an older neighbor in my old building why they hadn't switched and their response was that comcast was good enough for them, I explained it was also cheaper, they said they'd "look into it" and 3 years later still on comcast.

It's the same way polls can find so many people who love their current health insurance company. "Would you like things to continue the way they are, or would you like to venture into the unknown with this service that is crucial to your current lifestyle?"

I already have cheapish high-quality internet (Webpass). An alternative would be unlikely to improve my bandwidth (I only have gigabit ethernet on all my devices anyway..) or latency (1-2 ms to work). Maybe it would be cheaper...

If I was offered Chattanooga's municipal internet access, I would take it. But it really matters what the offering might be. They have had up to 10G symmetrical speeds since 2015!


What I am interested in: a single entity responsible for trenching/fibre infrastructure, then allowing providers to resell access to it. Requiring each ISP to run their own fibre makes no sense to me. Let ISPs compete on price and quality of service, not on having billions in the bank to roll out the fibre (or take subsidies and not roll it out, like in many places in USA).

Even worse in condos (like in Toronto) where the condo board has signed an agreement with a provider and not allowing occupants any choice.

Huge shoutouts to Beanfield (Toronto) and Sonic (SF) for actually providing symmetric gigabit for cheaper than the incumbents with lower, asymmetric plans. If all companies were like them I wouldn't be advocating for municipal broadband.

What you're talking about is called Unbundled Access / Bitstream access [1]. Although that's currently mostly talked about in the context of copper/DSL access.

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Unbundled_access

Thanks for the clarification; that's exactly what I was referring to. I'd like to see fibre included in that since it's likely to be the physical medium that will last a century or more, regardless of the protocols on top of it.

This would be better, but exactly what is the purpose of last-mile-only competition? It feels like LARPing capitalism because we are embarrassed natural monopolies exist.

The purpose is to align incentives so that there is competition for customers on both ends of the fiber cable.

The fiber cable itself is enough a commodity that it can be structured (from a business perspective) more like roads or water lines.

This is actually how ISP’s worked at the dawn of home Internet in the US. There’s no way the incumbent monopolies would have given people access to raw TCP/IP if not for decentralized competition. (Look at Prodigy, AOL and Compuserve’s behavior for the decade prior for hard evidence). Historically, the phone company in the US could even block the usage of answering machines and modems. It took anti-trust action to eliminate those bans. We see the same thing today, with AT&T’s crappy FTTN routers, intentional cable modem buffer bloating, and the abomination that is IPTV cable service.

Last mile only competition eliminates all those things.

In Minneapolis there's no municipal broadband, but there is a local company that offers FTTH. I use it and it's clearly superior to any cable company I've ever had (more speed for the price, more reliable, when you call customer service an actual person picks up the phone instead of an automated system, etc). Even so, my perception is that Xfinity is more popular because people either aren't aware that there are other options or because they want to bundle it with their TV package, particularly sports. I would think municipal broadband anywhere wouldn't take over for similar reasons, and a government service would have even less ability to win at marketing unless they booted out the cable company.

Given that cable companies are often monopolies in the region they operate and that they have a history of shady practices, I’m not sure why people are so hesitant to accept local governments from offering broadband instead. If they did then at least there would be public input on the implementation instead of just corporate interests deciding who is eligible and what they want to install (and when…)

This involves politics so it's never going to be uncontentious and there's a valid concern about how well something will be operated. Your opinion of your local water utility, for example, probably varies a lot from someone who lives in Flint. As we've seen in other areas, it would not be impossible for the “municipal” option in some cases to end up being a no-bid contract with little accountability.

I don't think that means we shouldn't do it but it really does depend on citizens getting involved to lobby for an effective structure with real accountability and a viable economic model.

I think you are mixing two forms of government and their incentives.

The above poster was talking about local government which has an incentive to establish local network effects and raise property values.

Flint was caused by the state of Michigan taking over their water management and ignoring warnings of what would happen.

It feels like states are much more beholden to telecommunications lobbies than the local areas. TN, despite Chattanooga being the poster child for municipal broadband, banned other cities from building their own networks. CO forces both the local government and the citizens later in an election to authorize local networks. WA just repealed their ban on municipal broadband networks.

I do not feel that a remote possibility of no-bid contracts is a reasonable concern over the current corrupt and no accountability of these large ISPs who lobby state governments to ban local networks. It is a lot easier to change local government than many state governments if a project goes wrong.

> I think you are mixing two forms of government and their incentives.

> The above poster was talking about local government which has an incentive to establish local network effects and raise property values.

Respectfully, this isn't a real distinction. The problem of people making decisions where they personally benefit from something which leaves the larger community worse off isn't specific to a level of government or the sector. I agree that the problems get worse at the state level (where money is focused) but that doesn't mean that it can't happen elsewhere.

I do agree that it's better to keep services local and really want to see municipal broadband (living in a city which has had tons of fiber deployed since the 2000s but hasn't made it available to individuals). My point was that we should go into this with our eyes open and make sure that there's good public visibility — the problem is a deal happening in the dark — and knowledgeable people make sure their elected representatives hear from someone who isn't selling things (whether that's services, equipment, etc.).

The government should govern and have multiple providers serving generally non-overlapping regions. Based on how well they serve their regions their region can be enlarged or shrunk, or they be given new regions to serve.

You're saying that the providers should have absolute monopolies? What could possibly go wrong!

This combines all the weakest attributes of market and planned economies together.

It would make sense if the exclusive non-overlapping regions were for maintenance contracts on common infrastucture, but it makes zero sense for last-mile.

I'd like to see the numbers on that. If the non-empty threat of allowing your competitor to take more share doesn't improve effectiveness more than the duplicate development on the smaller sections handed between them. Once they both have infrastructure in a given area it's efficiently handed over.

Also a good way of allowing new technologies to enter a market. If the incumbents don't innovate, a newcomer will be given a corner to start.

Municipal broadband doesn't bundle with TV and sports like Comcast does. Addicted people need their hits of dopamine, and Comcast (or insert evil ISP here) controls the supply even with a municipal player in town. I wouldn't be surprised if Comcast charged you more for your TV package alone than if you bundled your internet as well.

> Municipal broadband doesn't bundle with TV and sports like Comcast does

My anecdata based on people I know is that no one gets TV anymore.

There is likely a strong inverse correlation between "people who have enough knowledge to recognize the benefits of municipal broadband" and "people who still watch cable TV."

There are plenty of internet OTT services that provide live TV like Hulu Live, YouTube TV, Sling, etc.

These days if you’re not into sports, there is really no need for live TV. You can mix and match streaming services.

And you can always just pay for MLB, NFL, NBA, etc. streaming services. You get hit with the same blackout dates too!

Also, digital antennas can come in handy if the local channels provide the news and sports content that you could otherwise not get with Internet TV services.

I wish there was some kind of non-blackout streaming for local teams. I paid for youtube tv before the implemented blackouts and it was great. I'd totally pay the leagues directly! The only option seems to be the massive "all the games" packages on top of a cable subscription.

Theoretical democratic accountability and public input haven't stopped public transit from sucking. Perhaps more people use the internet and so would be inclined to care, but governments aren't automatically under any pressure to execute well as long as they make the right ideological signals.

It is generally local governments that have explicitly granted and enforced those monopolies. The other issue is with them not ending up as purely fee for service, and people that don't choose to consume as much end up paying for some portion of it.

To be fair, your local government is a monopoly in the region they operate and if you look into it likely have a history of shady practices - at least all the places I have lived. I also doubt they value customer service any more than your ISP.

in theory, you can at least vote them out in the next election.

You should be careful not to underestimate how incompetent local governments can be.

Different country (Switzerland), have been using municipality broadband since we moved to this place. I'm happy with the service part - techs are knowledgeable, support is fast. Less happy with the price and speed - it's more expensive (about double) than places that have competition (e.g. Zurich, which is nearby) and while Zurich had 1Gb+ for years, ours was only enabled last year. They do fulfill what they promise - I pay for 600Mbit and that's what I get. No "up to" nonsense.

That’s fairly amazing to me considering the billions of dollars that corporate monopolies have invested in advertising and PR, compared to zero in towns that haven’t done any promotion of the idea of municipal broadband.

It's cause they've invested all that money in PR and advertising and not _actually running fiber to my god damn house_.


I literally get junk (physical) mail twice a week from my ISP trying to sell me different thing. They are using every combination of "open immediately", postcards, odd shaped, odd colors, things that fall out of envelopes when you open them etc etc. The marketing campaign must have a monster budget.

How is it amazing that a significant fraction of Americans said they might consider leaving a service provider if the alternative actually existed? (if, say, it was cheaper or better). If I asked you if you'd be interested in cheaper electricity, would you be more likely to say "no, I like the ads this company does" or "maybe"?

Advertising lets people know that stuff exists and makes some things sexy (not so much broadband...). It doesn't render consumers incapable of considering alternatives.

The greatest fear of Telecommunications companies is being reduced to a 'big dumb pipe':


The entire purpose of their marketing departments to delay that happening for as long as possible.

From the article

> "In a world of dumb terminals and telephones, networks had to be smart. But in a world of smart terminals, networks have to be dumb." — George Gilder, The Coming of the Fibersphere, Forbes ASAP, December 7, 1992

> The Coming of the Fibersphere, Forbes ASAP, December 7, 1992

> 1992

sheds tear

Allegedly Chattanooga has 10Gb municipal broadband. Anyone use it? How's the service?

I have the 1Gb municipal broadband here in Chattanooga. The customer service is fantastic—night and day compared to what I had with Comcast when I was in Atlanta.

I haven’t had any outages in the year or so I’ve been here. Latency and packet loss are better than what I had with Comcast on average. There are no caps either.

I pay the same price here that I paid for 50mbps Comcast business class (business to avoid the data caps).

I suspect the major considerations for choosing a service provider are price, availability, and service quality. Potential customers are more likely to consider municipal broadband if they are either unhappy with their current service or that service is less than gigabit speed.

I also suspect the incumbents aren't troubled by competition in areas where they provide gigabit service with strong reliability but they will fight to the death to keep municipal broadband out of areas they hope to expand into.

Both of those assumptions, if accurate, would suggest network access is, at least secretly, perceived as a utility by both the providers and customers.

I would consider it, but in light of the way my municipality runs its other services (water, trash, road maintenance, transit, etc.) I'd be hesitant. In other words, they have no demonstrated record of competence to stand upon.

I bet the other 60% would also consider switching after the price hikes to make up for lost revenue from the other 40%.

Would a municipality be able to compete regionally outside of their "jurisdiction"?

I could see a major increase in these municipal providers if that could somehow be an additional revenue driver. But I also imagine the existing players already lobbied a law to prevent that.

I'm not necessarily against municipal broadband - I'd probably use it over my current ISP - but it feels like a poor solution to the problem. Municipal broadband doesn't help anyone outside the municipality.

Ideally, broadband ISPs would just compete with eachother. But the infrastructure is expensive, so it seems most of them have unofficially agreed it's just not worth the cost to expand into eachothers' territory and compete for customers.

How did we get around this issue with the telephone grid and what's stopping us from doing the same with ISPs?

The best experience for the price are companies like Sonic, Webpass and Monkeybrains. All small providers doing something WAY better than the huge incumbents, for typically way cheaper.

100% would be off the local cable company if my municipality offered anything similar speed what I have. While I've not had much in the way of bad experiences, it's mostly because they aren't Comcast level huge.

I expect people to only switch if the price of the municipal option is lower. I also expect the corporations to get into a price war with municipalities, which they will win, because they have bigger coffer and economies of scale. I also expect the prices to go slowly but surely back up when the municipal option goes out of business.

In recent years that's not been the case. Municipal option has been faster, sometimes, fiber, and cheaper. It's far from failed, in Chatanooga for example it is very successful.

Maybe I am wrong. I hope I am. But the Planet Money episode on this topic mentioned municipal broadband has more failure stories than success. It's worth a listen if you have the time.


>But the Planet Money episode on this topic mentioned municipal broadband has more failure stories than success.


I'm not seeing that in the transcript. I'm seeing a story about corporations being so afraid of municipal broadband that they pay for laws to make it illegal.

They talk about a study. The relevant section starts here:

> SAYRE: Christopher Yoo is a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in technology and the Internet. And in his spreadsheet is essentially the story of what happened to other cities that tried to do what Wilson, N.C., was trying to do - build and run their own fiber-optic network.


> cities tend to assume these fiber-optic networks will pay for themselves. They borrow millions and millions of dollars and are often screwed because one of a million things goes wrong.

I believe the study is this one:


Not sure if it applies to the US, but generally municipalities could use taxpayer money to fund it and make the service free, which beats any corporation, since it's equivalent to making it mandatory to be a customer.

Here in Sweden it is kind of the norm. I have 100/100 municipal fiber in my cottage in the middle of the forest. I could have higher speed, but it didn't feel cost effective since I don't use it much.

My guess is that the other 59.8% simply don't know what it is

I don't really care who I get my internet from. If you don't spy on me, are cost competitive, and have good enough speeds I'm in (and relatively low downtime).

Who manages this municipal broadband? Are these the same local governments who are so fond of surveillance? Why would you trust them with your internet access & data?

Broadband should be like your city’s water/sewer and as cheap as possible. Most municipalities with their own broadband have better service than Comcast.

I don't see any way this could be a meaningful survey, because the implication is that 60% of consumers would "not even consider" switching to a cheaper provider, which is ridiculous.

Of course people would consider it. I'm not even personally convinced it's a great idea (I'm not currently impressed with municipal _anything_ living in Seattle), and I would _consider_ using it instead of Xfinity.

I doubt there are 20% of Americans who would reject cheap municipal broadband out of principle, if it existed and was offered to them cheaply. It doesn't mean they think it's realistic or good policy.

> not currently impressed with municipal _anything_ living in Seattle

Are the water and sewage systems that bad in Seattle? I was unaware, but will now be detouring to learn more (although I am a little hesitant to find out what problems could be arising on the sewage front).

The water quality is fine, and I haven't had sewage problems. But they are both pretty crazy expensive given how much accessible clean water there is in the PNW (https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/data/rain-soaked-s...).

I'm not impressed with trash or recycling pickup, which are intermittent and expensive.

Electricity is fine I guess, but we have solar and don't end up paying anything on net so I don't pay attention to the price.

I think the high cost of water is largely due to sewage treatment costs, which are higher because we’re surrounded by water. I think Seattle Public Utilities contracts out trash pickup to companies like Waste Management, just based on what I see on the side of the garbage trucks driving in my neighborhood, so if they’re not doing a good job perhaps the city should re-evaluate that contract.

To be fair, it doesn't seem like you have many issues with municipal management, but don't like the cost.

How can you know the cost is worse than a privatized version?

Intermittent trash pickup does seem problematic.

>I don't see any way this could be a meaningful survey, because the implication is that 60% of consumers would "not even consider" switching to a cheaper provider, which is ridiculous.

Are you assuming municipal broadband would be cheaper? As discussed elsewhere on this thread, it's very difficult to have any sense of the meaning of the results without understanding the questions asked.

If the question was literally just "would you consider switching from your current broadband supplier to a municipal supplier?" then it tells us very little other than people are making a bunch of assumptions that lead to mixed conclusions.

No, sorry, not making any assumptions. I'm using "consider" as "take a look and see if it's worth it". I agree it's useless without giving consumers actual numbers to look at.

Could we possibly tag posts like this as something like "US Only" - there are no municipal broadband networks in (for example) the UK. Unless perhaps in Hull?

The reality is that getting municipal broadband in the US is very challenging.

Even if you get the political good will early on, the fight that big players bring on is significant. One recent effort I was involved in was almost there after years of planning and having just completed a pilot build out, but got derailed by a commercial provider responding to an RFP for service by sending the municipality a non-response notice along the lines of "It's great that you're building out FTTH, but we plan on doing a full FTTH deployment of our own and it will be done within a year, just thought you'd like to know." This in itself was enough to kill any further funding, without any evidence that the company will actually follow through, because nobody has the appetite for the politics of holding the bag. They effectively got to the right people to kill the effort. Now the community is trying to see if that provider will buy a lease on what's been built so it's not a black eye in front of tax payers.

The best solution is not the one that established corporations want to see:

1. The municipality owns and deploys dark fiber using an open access FTTH model in an Active Ethernet design (e.g. every household or building has a dedicated strand, no GPON). The prevents people from being locked in to a specific speed, technology, or provider. If someone needs 100G the fiber will support it just fine. 2. The municipality maintains fiber concentration points and equipment huts or facilities for providers to co-locate equipment and service customers directly (allows choice and competition). 3. An anchor non-profit ISP (established as a 501(c)(3) and managed under a member-owned Credit Union model) is funded via a grant to provide day-1 service, but any commercial provider is free to make use of the fiber to service any location using a fair and published fiber strand fee that is presented to the customer as part of their bill (usually $10 a mo.) 4. The initial build-out is fully funded as a universal service (every property in the community, not just the high margin locations) through low-interest municipal bonds (10 year) and paid for using a modest property tax increase like any other municipal infrastructure effort. Fee collection covers ongoing maintenance and if adoption is good can cut the tax burden down by as much as half.

In other words we need to start thinking of dark fiber as a public utility the same way we think about water or electricity, but we also need to do it in a way where that utility doesn't get in the way of service delivery. The fiber is the road, and the delivery trucks that drive on it are the ISP.

Everything here is easy to do. The problem is you can almost never win the political fight to make any of it happen, at least not at the municipal level when going up against national corporations that bring in more money in one month than your annual budget.

There is no reason cost-driven for people to not have symmetrical gigabit as a baseline level of connectivity. Under the model described above, you can deliver gigabit service for about $50 a mo.

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