A majority of US states have outlawed or restricted municipalities from building broadband networks, according to a new report from community broadband advocate BroadbandNow.
“The climate for municipal broadband has worsened significantly since our last report in 2018,” wrote Kendra Chamberlain in the report’s introduction. “There are now 26 states with laws on the books that either roadblock or ban outright municipally-owned broadband networks.” That’s up from 20 states in last year’s report.
The report blames intense lobbying by Internet companies for the current state of affairs. “The telecom industry’s lobbying efforts have had tangible ramifications on state laws governing municipal broadband,” it states. “In fact, over $92 million was spent on lobbying in 2018 alone to protect business interests at the national and state level.” It then goes on to explain how states “make municipal broadband projects difficult to initiate, costly to build, and commercially unviable.”
“Common tactics include forcing phantom costs into municipal broadband service rates that make them less competitive; restricting the expansion of public broadband networks that make it virtually impossible to generate enough revenue to keep afloat; limiting public funds for broadband to public-private partnerships; or forcing municipalities to sell broadband under a wholesale-only model.”
However, the report notes that municipalities are fighting back. “After the FCC repealed Net Neutrality in 2017, municipalities across the country began exploring ways to expand broadband access to residents without relying on private telecom,” it states. “There are now some 500 communities across the country that are served by some form of municipal broadband network and more than 300 communities are currently served by a cooperative. These numbers grow year after year, even as anti-municipal broadband legislation continues to spread across states.”
Some Congressional Lawmakers have also joined the fight for community broadband. Last year, nine of them backed the Community Broadband Act of 2018, a bill introduced by Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) that would have barred states from preventing municipalities from offering public broadband service.
BroadbandNow was founded upon the belief that “broadband Internet should be available to all Americans.” The organization is dedicated to “bringing transparency in government data and research, aggregating IP verified customer reviews and ratings [and] fostering competition through better awareness of local providers.”
“Our lives today are shaped by the web, yet many consumers are out of touch with legislation and technology advancements and the implications they will have on our day to day lives,” BroadbandNow says on its mission page. “This is why we believe it’s our responsibility to help bring awareness to these issues.”
“The US continues to trail behind many other nations when it comes to broadband penetration and access speeds,” it continues. “We still have 874,222 Americans without access to ANY broadband (3mbps or higher) connection even wireless, so one of our primary goals is to bring attention to under-served areas to help raise awareness and foster competition.”