This can lead to worse internet availability.
E.g. these are municipalities, right, so porn filters and other forms of censorship for example are pretty much guaranteed if you let them install their own networks.
And unlike corporations, government agencies are bound by the Constitution; any attempt by a municipal Internet service to filter based on content would face a First Amendment lawsuit overnight.
I agree with your overall point -- I am aware of no attempt by municipal broadband providers to censor the internet they provide, and the First Amendment would seriously limit their ability to do so.
This, however, is not right:
>Nor has the government-sponsored Post Office ever refused to carry indecent mails (think adult magazines and videos).
It has done this on very many occasions and, in fact, these efforts are precisely how we got much of the First Amendment obscenity doctrine we have today.
("'Lady Chatterley's Lover'...has been detained as unmailable by the New York Postmaster and, after a hearing before the Judicial Officer of the Post Office Department and reference to the Postmaster General for final departmental decision, was held by the latter to be 'obscene and non-mailable pursuant to 18 U.S.Code 1461.'")
Another good comparison might be broadcast (and, to a lesser degree, cable) television where, indeed, the government monopoly has generated pervasive content censorship. But this has been made possible by a peculiar First Amendment rule that really only applies to broadcast TV. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_Lion_Broadcasting_Co._v._Fe...
I, for one, would rather take my chances with municipal broadband than be stuck with the truly awful TWC service that I am currently stuck with in NC.
If not, you're getting fleeced.
There are now enough real muni networks that we should have examples of this inevitable censorship by now.
"While Blackburn is clearly overlooking the success of municipal broadband provider EPB from her own state, what’s left out of the conversation is that largest percentage of funds for Blackburn’s campaign came directly from the telecommunications industry"
A politician's campaign bankroll is very relevant to the issues that person chooses to champion while in office.
Cities don't need to get in the telecoms business -- however governments do have a responsibility to promote competition. Cities getting into the internet business would be about as efficient as the Post Office getting into the letter delivery business -- a ton of public-union-related waste, bureaucratic inefficiencies as well as an inherit incentive to discourage private companies, thus reducing innovation. You also have the issue of city-run networks being subject to political pressures such as "I'll donate money to your reelection if you allow my content to have preference on the network." You also have the city having access to your usage records and they'd be nothing keeping them from using it for law enforcement purposes without a warrant or your consent. After all, you'd be using city-owned property, thus you really wouldn't have much leverage. The police would certainly leverage that. We all know that most internet traffic isn't going to be safe from NSA-types, however, there's a reasonable belief that NSA-level intercepts aren't filtering down to the local cop on the beat. Maybe it's a bit of paranoia, however based on my experiences with city governments in the US, they are some of the most power-hungry, corrupt sufferers of little-man(woman) syndrome I've ever encountered. These are the same twits that want to ban large sodas because they think they're your daddies and mommies. Yeah, count me out. Last thing anyone needs to do is give a city (or any) government more power to do anything.
Effectively, yes. They can't outright ban competition, but they make it very unattractive using franchise provisions, namely build out requirements. See: http://crosscut.com/2014/03/04/business/118993/google-fiber-...
Unless you have unlimited capital, the most practical way to start a competitor to Comcast, etc, is one neighborhood at a time. Start at the high end, and pick off the local incumbent's high-margin customers. This would have a disproportionate impact on the incumbent's bottom line. However, in most cities, this is simply not allowed. You have to build out everywhere in order to be allowed to build out anywhere. Where I live, in Wilmington DE, more than a quarter of the city lives below the poverty line. Verizon refuses to build FiOS here, in competition with Comcast, because there is no point building $60+ per month fiber service to neighborhoods that can't afford it.
Imagine you are the mayor of Podunk, Arkansas and you want your constituents to have access to high speed internet. AT&T and Comcast won't rush to lay cables to your town because there's simply not enough business for them to compete for. So, as mayor of Podunk give AT&T an exclusivity agreement for 20 years in exchange for them laying down the infrastructure today.
The problem is obvious: now AT&T doesn't have any competition and they can do whatever they want with their prices. Your population is hostage to the exclusivity agreement for the next 20 years.
One possible solution for this problem would be the government to build the infrastructure and then invite companies to compete for it's usage. That's what happens in UK and other countries.
See: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&ei=KM_NU7Pg.... Section III(A).
The NTIA has a 50-state survey of right of way laws here: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&ei=KM_NU7Pg...
The executive summary here is that the laws you cite protect some services without protecting other services that may commonly be bundled. In the Baltimore situation I mentioned, only Comcast can provide cable TV. Verizon won't roll FiOS out to most of the city, because they wouldn't be able to sell television services alongside the internet and telephone services. It's rumored this also prevented Google Fiber from considering Baltimore as a target market. So, while the letter of the law agrees with you, that any entity can provide service, the city has signed an agreement with Comcast that makes it financial suicide to attempt it.
It is not enough to parse the laws; you must also understand how they interact with the actual actions taken by real governments.
Baltimore's agreement with Comcast is non-exclusive for television service: http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2004-09-21/news/0409210094_....
The reason Verizon doesn't offer television service in Baltimore is because it doesn't have a cable TV franchise from the city. The reason it doesn't have one is not because Comcast's contract is exclusive, but because the city won't give Verizon one unless they agree to build out FiOS to the whole city. Verizon won't do that because it makes no financial sense to build fiber everywhere in a city where a quarter of the population is at or below the poverty line. It dramatically increases their cost per actual subscriber, which is already iffy for FiOS to begin with. Verizon hsd built internet service only to a few high end communities, something that doesn't require a city-wide franchise.
Google won't enter Baltimore for the same reason Verizon won't. Google does not agree to build out requirements for Google Fiber. They demand the right to only build fiber in neighborhoods where enough people sign up to justify it: http://www.oregonlive.com/silicon-forest/index.ssf/2014/05/g....
In either case, Comcast signed a buildout/franchise agreement, and the economy has shifted since then to render such agreements less profitable. That, combined with Comcast's boilerplate 'most favored nation' clauses it generally gets into their agreements, renders all of your arguments moot, as far as the end result for the populace goes: there is only one game in town. The fact that it technically shouldn't be that way is just academic.
The Sun article you linked regards Baltimore County. Baltimore is not in Baltimore County. I wish you better luck with your future research.
This directly contradicts your assertion claim that Baltimore gave Comcast an exclusive franchise for television.
> It is fairly universal in franchise agreements to require universal buildout and public-access channel service in exchange for certain amenities the local government can provide. In the case of Google Fiber, they chose not to pursue a TV franchise and Baltimore was smart enough to stick to their buildout requirements.
It is fairly universal, but it is also what suppresses competition in the market. Verizon and Google won't touch those terms with a 10-foot pole. Its not smart of Baltimore to stick to those requirements, because it means people in Baltimore won't get fiber.
> That, combined with Comcast's boilerplate 'most favored nation' clauses it generally gets into their agreements, renders all of your arguments moot, as far as the end result for the populace goes: there is only one game in town. The fact that it technically shouldn't be that way is just academic.
Sure, there is one game in town, but my argument isn't about that. Your claim, an oft-repeated bit of misinformation, is that cities get around 253(a) by granting exclusive right of way to certain providers. Or maybe your claim is that cities get around 253(a) by granting exclusive franchises for television to a single provider. The implication is that a competitor is legally precluded from entering the market. However, the reality is that cities don't do those things. What they do instead is succumb to class warfare politics, and make the terms of getting a franchise unattractive for competitors.
The question is: who is to blame. People on HN like to make it seem like cable companies negotiated themselves sweetheart exclusive deals. But the reality is that municipalities are to blame. Between the build out requirements and random cash grabs for public access, cities put up massive roadblocks to potential competition. Only the incumbents are willing to put up with them.
The bottom line is that companies like Verizon and Google are ready and willing to build fiber in places like Baltimore. But the city won't let them unless they agree to ridiculous terms. The fact that even Google refuses to agree to such nonsense in Fiber cities should tell you who is at fault here.
I'm also unsure why you think that a simple business decision by Google is some sort of Moral Designator. It is the job of a city government to protect the less fortunate. They're not going to achieve that by letting corporations serve rich neighborhoods and ignore poor ones. I'm not sure how a city can "make the terms of getting a franchise unattractive for competitors" by holding them to the same terms as the existing franchisees.
I'm not really interested in having some kind of politically-charged debate with you about it, and now that you're throwing around phrases like 'class warfare,' I've realized you don't have any other actual motivation here. Sorry to have wasted your time on the matter.
You state that as if it is self-evident, and yet cities have run all sorts of utilities for a long time. Internet access is fast turning into a utility.
Obviously there are a lot of details to be worked out, but are there any significant technical reasons this couldn't be done?
There's a lot of evidence that mandatory LLU reduces prices and increases speeds.
It's also relevant to note the background for LLU: the cables were almost all installed by a government owned telco, so there's a clear argument for the infrastructure being owned by the taxpayer. LLU came into existence as government telcos were privatised in the 90s to avoid creating a private monopoly.
 http://www.akamai.com/stateoftheinternet/ (check out the infographics and note the 24Mbps speeds in South Korea)
Why do you think google fiber is so selective? Because it is a regulatory nightmare for google to get the unbelievable amount of paperwork done for approval. Even for cities that want to work with google, a lot of them still aren't really able to due to the amount of bureaucracy and red tape required to pass planning/zoning committee muster for each county/city/etc.
Here in the US my water and sewer are handled by the city. It's pretty cheap and effective. I don't need more "innovation" in my water delivery.
My electricity is delivered by a regulated monopoly provider that answers to a Public Utility Commission and has a strictly regulated profit margin; it's purchased from one of a hundred retail providers. The supposed benefits of competition haven't materialized - we're paying the same for electricity now as we did when all electricity was a single regulated monopoly on an inflation-adjusted basis, only now no private investor will pony up for capital investment projects so we keep building cheap crappy power plants. Otherwise it's the same as before and it seems to function fairly well.
Either of these would be a huge improvement and exactly what the government is best at - handling public infrastructure that is ill-suited to competition or forms a natural monopoly.
In fact I'm suffering from Verizon's "innovation" right now thanks to their refusal to upgrade peering links. They're "innovating" ways to choke traffic to seek rent/extract money on my private transactions with Netflix, Crunchyroll, and others, despite the fact that I am already paying them for use of their network (and they used my private property to lay lines to the rest of the neighborhood - something for which I am not compensated).
I do not have any choices; my neighborhood has congested capped cable from TW or Verizon's artificially congested FIOS. That's it.
Frankly when Ma Bell/ATT was broken up I firmly believe it was done in a way to serve ATT's long-interests by keeping the retail and lines in the same ILEC box. It let the (D) government appear to be "doing something", right up until the (R)s proceeded to never meet a merger they didn't like.
What we need to to break apart Verizon and ATT and turn the physical plant into a regulated delivery company (DeliveryCo) charged with running fiber to the 90% of reasonably-reachable homes in the USA. That physical infrastructure should serve us for at least 100 years - we know how to send 10Gbps/100Gbps and more down the line and the expensive part is digging up yards/streets; the boxes on either end are a pittance by comparison. I suspect it would actually serve us for 1000 years or more but it's The Future so who knows.
Let anyone who wants to start an ISP do so; DeliveryCo just drops the ISP fiber/ethernet cables at whatever datacenter you like in your city and they're responsible for backhaul/transit, billing, customer service, packages, etc. Let DeliveryCo be effectively transparent with VLANs or IP/IP encapsulation so as far as my router and my ISP's router are concerned DeliveryCo doesn't exist.
People can claim it doesn't work, but the regulators seem perfectly capable of demanding 60hz+/-@120V AC be reliably delivered to every home with guaranteed response/repair times (except in cases of emergencies). When my underground cable gave out and started arcing with the dirt they answered the phone and sent a truck within 2 hours and it was repaired within 5. If DeliveryCo's regulator said they had to deliver 1Gbps links I don't see why it would differ.
> In fact I'm suffering from Verizon's "innovation" right now thanks to their refusal to upgrade peering links.
Your water utility is using century old infrastructure that in many states is not in compliance with Clean Water Act standards, and in most places dumps untreated sewage into the local river when it rains. Nobody wants to invest the money into fixing things, because investment decisions are highly politicized and effectively made by a rate setting board. We're $300 billion behind in terms of investment for wastewater systems: http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/wastewater. The ASCE grades almost all of our water infrastructure as a "D." http://www.infrastructurereportcard.org/grades
You're talking about jumping from the frying pan into the fire.
Why not? If they can do it cheaper and better, they should.
Any other position is religious idiocy.
I don’t dispute that they are anti-competitive, but I wonder these are laws (or similar) are also the reason there is not private-sector competition. Would like to see original sources, and comparisons.
Remember, most cable and phone systems were designed by municipalities as monopolies, which is what got us here today. They were seen as utilities.
The telecom - and cable industry in the city of Zurich - yelled "bloody murder!" and foretold all sorts of doom and mayhem if the publicly owned electric utility would build a publicly financed fiber network. This happened about ten years ago.
The same companies argued that fiber is not economically viable and the investment not worthwhile.
They pored massive funds into a NO campaign for the referendum, which was accepted by the public in a landslide, twice!
After construction started the biggest telco, Swisscom, actually jumped onto the train. Now, thanks to the foresight of a public utility and the spending of public money Zurich has one of the densest, most modern, high capacity fiber networks.
Oh, the argument that a public utility smokes out poor private companies? That's not happening and that's very easy to avoid:
EWZ (the utility) does not act as an ISP. They sub lease the network to ISPs under equal and transparent conditions, who in turn sell network capacity to the consumer.
This also avoids the "censorship issue", which, in my opinion, is a spurious argument, at best.
I'm aghast about some of the arguments used in order to keep the public from pursuing its best interest.
I'd wager that a private company, whom's business model is built on force and coercion provides rotten service and will not act in the best interest of its customers.
When you look at where broadband stands in the US, compared to the rest of the world, I think my argument has merit.
> over 39 million Americans have less than 2 wired broadband providers they can get broadband service from.
The logical/programmer side of me reads this as "over 39 million Americans have one wired broadband provider they can get broadband service from"
> Combined these rules force municipalities to compete with for-profit corporations, but with none of the benefits of being a municipality.
What an incompetent and one-sided summary of the laws! After reading all of these, point-by-point, all I am left with is the impression that these are all good laws, and are good for the fairness of the market. Why the hell should municipalities get kick-ins that are not afforded to the businesses?
Keep in mind, I came in knowing that most of these laws are very one-sided! So, to have such an effect...
Is the author getting funding from the big telco and cableco?