National Broadband Plan: Early Outlook is Glum

When it comes to the National Broadband Plan that the FCC is tasked with developing, we at muninetworks.org have a red line. No matter what the federal policy, all communities must reserve the right to invest in and own their own networks. These networks are essential infrastructure; no community must be left incapable of securing its future prosperity.

FDR recognized this important community right:

I therefore lay down the following principle: That where a community--a city or county or a district--is not satisfied with the service rendered or the rates charged by the private utility, it has the undeniable basic right, as one of its functions of Government, one of its functions of home rule, to set up, after a fair referendum to its voters has been had, its own governmentally owned and operated service.

That right has been recognized in a good many of the States of the Union. Its general recognition by every State will hasten the day of better service and lower rates. It is perfectly clear to me, and to every thinking citizen, that no community which is sure that it is now being served well, and at reasonable rates by a private utility company, will seek to build or operate its own plant. But on the other hand the very fact that a community can, by vote of the electorate, create a yardstick of its own, will, in most cases, guarantee good service and low rates to its population. I might call the right of the people to own and operate their own utility something like this: a "birch rod" in the cupboard to be taken out and used only when the "child" gets beyond the point where a mere scolding does no good.

We believe a national broadband policy could go much farther to strengthen communities by spurring fast networks everywhere, but we also recognize a political reality: incumbents providers have little to gain from a national broadband plan (especially one that goes so far as to encourage actual competition) and while their networks fall behind the times, they are able to pump all kinds of money into DC (and state legislatures around the country).

Therefore, we stand by our red line. We will hope for more, but early signs are not good. Karl Bode offers 5 signs the broadband plan is already in trouble. I want to highlight one, but the whole post is a must-read.

Recently, a number of journalists, some who should know better, have claimed that Connected Nation (which is controlled by the very industry about which they are supposedly providing impartial data) is popular because data showing where broadband services exist is secret. That is crap. Quoting Bode:

ISPs like to argue they fight the release of such data because it would tip off competitors, but in reality incumbent ISPs know precisely where a competitor offers service and at what speeds, because they spend millions of dollars on intelligence gathering. Think Verizon doesn't know exactly where competitors offer service before it invests $24 billion to deploy fiber to the home service?

The real reason ISPs don't want that data exposed is because it would show limited competition and significant coverage gaps, resulting in new laws aimed at fixing things, and in turn lowering revenues. Instead, the government has willfully used flawed data that suggests everything is rosy. The illusion of a competitive, rosy broadband market has allowed government (and the lobbyists who love them) to justify the elimination of price controls and other consumer protection laws.