Washington Post - April 11, 2017
Most Americans want to let cities build and sell homegrown Internet service
Written by Brian Fung
With Internet providers ranking near the bottom of customer satisfaction surveys, 7 in 10 Americans say their towns or communities should be allowed to build new Internet networks that compete with large, established providers, according to new data from the Pew Research Center.
The latest findings add to a long-running battle over restrictions — often written by state legislatures and supported by telecom and cable companies — that prevent local governments from establishing homegrown rivals to ISPs such as AT&T or Charter. And, policy analysts say, the results underscore a gulf in attitudes about public infrastructure spending — although perhaps not the kind you may expect.
Where they are allowed to, other towns have increasingly moved to build their own independent networks. For example, the government of Colorado Springs, recently became the 100th jurisdiction in the state to vote to overcome the Colorado legislature's restrictions on municipal broadband, said Christopher Mitchell, a public broadband advocate at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance in Minneapolis.
“In Colorado, we see liberal cities like Boulder, conservative cities like Colorado Springs, and many conservative counties putting, in some sense, their money where their mouth is,” said Mitchell.
While Colorado law allows cities and towns to move forward with municipal broadband if enough residents vote to approve it, other states can be more restrictive. Chattanooga became part of a high-profile legal battle in 2015, when it asked the federal government to help it overcome restrictions put in place by Tennessee's legislature.
Under those rules, the city's Internet network was not allowed to grow to serve neighboring customers. Regulators at the Federal Communications Commission voted to supersede the state regulation, but a year later they were defeated when a federal court ruled the move unconstitutional.
Lawmakers in Congress lined up for and against the FCC's initial vote on a partisan basis, with Democrats siding with Chattanooga and Republicans siding against it. But the picture is different at the local level, where few partisan divisions exist over the issue, said Mitchell.
“The most striking thing is how out of touch Republicans in Washington, D.C. are from their base,” he said. “I talk to Republicans at the local level regularly, especially in rural communities — and they all realize they need the public option.”