Incumbent providers, grown lazy on a steady diet of public subsidies and monopoly rents, have done their best to cast this as a debate between efficient private competitors and inefficient government monopolies. But it is the incumbents that would rather regulate than compete. They resist municipal entry not because it is incompetent – no one resists incompetent competitors – or because it is unnecessary. Rather incumbents resist municipal entry because they recognize the ability of local government to offer a genuine competitive alternative to a high priced monopoly or duopoly services.
Local governments do not favor themselves on taxes or right of ways or otherwise compete unfairly with incumbent telecommunications and incumbent cable companies. To the contrary, private incumbents enjoy a wealth of state and federal subsidies, guaranteed rates of return, regulated rates for pole attachments, etc. In addition, local telephone companies enjoyed years of regulated monopoly status to build positions of dominance they continue to enjoy. To pretend that these local incumbents, with their subsidies and regulated access, need to “level the playing field” to protect a “free market” against local government systems flies in the face of reality.
Municipal systems do not “crowd out” private providers any more than the New York City Subway “crowds out” private taxi cabs and car services. To the contrary, studies and anecdotal evidence repeatedly show that where municipal systems take on the expensive task of building network infrastructure, the number of private providers increases.
Imagine if Borders and Barnes & Noble, claiming it was killing their book sales, asked lawmakers to ban cities from building libraries. The legislators would laugh them out of the State House. Yet the same thing is happening right now with respect to Wi-Fi and other municipal broadband plans, and it is being taken all too seriously. In fact, although it is almost universally acknowledged that broadband access is essential to economic growth and education, phone and cable companies are lobbying furiously to prohibit municipalities from providing free or discounted broadband to their residents.
Vested interests have been put on notice, [Harold] Feld said. "I don't want the incumbents to die," he said. "I just want them to have to work for a living. The act sends a strong message to carriers: it's not about you any more."