ACLU: If Americans Want Privacy & Net Neutrality, They Should Build Their Own Broadband Networks

From [HERE] More than 750 towns and cities across the United States have been forced to build their own networks if they want anything close to next-generation broadband. These towns and cities aren't doing this because it's fun, they're doing it as an organic response to market failure, and the growing cable monopoly that fuels high prices, poor coverage, and abysmal customer service. By and large the incumbent response to this shift hasn't been to offer better, cheaper service, but to literally write and buy protectionist laws in more than 21 states prohibiting locals from making their own decisions.

ISPs also like to demonize these efforts as automatic taxpayer boondoggles, which not only isn't true (municipal broadband, like any other business plan, can be well or poorly designed), but ignores the fact that these towns and cities wouldn't be getting into the broadband business if existing service wasn't so expensive and shitty across wide swaths of America.

Not too surprisingly, the Trump administration's decision to protect these disliked monopolies by killing net neutrality and broadband privacy protections is only driving more interest in such alternative solutions. For example, the ACLU has issued a new report stating that if cities want privacy and a neutral internet, they should join the trend of building their own networks:

"The internet has become a crucial utility, yet unlike water and electricity, quality broadband service in the U.S. is far from universal. Twenty-four million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet at home, either because it’s not available or too expensive. Lack of access to decent broadband is especially bad in low-income or rural areas and communities of color. In general, there’s very little competition in this market, with most people having only one or two choices of an internet service provider. As a result, internet service in the United States is slow compared to many other countries.

Hundreds of cities, towns, and counties around the country have already turned to community broadband, often providing faster and cheaper service than for-profit telecoms. And, municipally-owned broadband providers can honor net neutrality and privacy values, regardless of what the FCC does or doesn’t do. With these public systems, communities can ensure that internet service is provided in an equitable way.

Except thanks to Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Charter and CenturyLink's lobbying stranglehold over our leaders, terrible state laws prohibit many locals from being able to even consider the option. This protectionism has been such a problem, companies like AT&T have even tried to sneak anti-community broadband language into unrelated traffic bills when nobody was looking. In some cases, these laws go so far as to ban towns and cities from even striking public/private partnerships with the likes of Google Fiber or Tucows' Ting.

The ACLU advises residents of states that have such restrictions (you can find a complete map here) should, first and foremost, fight to reverse such protectionist measures:

"Unfortunately, telecom lobbyists have convinced at least 21 state legislatures to enact restrictions or outright bans on the ability of municipalities in those states to create their own broadband service — thereby leaving people no choice but to utilize the commercial services that are often slow, unjustifiably expensive, and now poisoned by their lack of protections for privacy and network neutrality...Residents of those states should start by demanding that their state legislators reverse those laws.

Like net neutrality, ISP lobbyists have had great success framing municipal broadband as a "partisan" fight in order to sow dissent and prevent anybody from disrupting their cozy status quo. But wanting better broadband (or wanting a say over tax spending and infrastructure) isn't a partisan concept, and by and large municipal broadband networks are most commonly built in conservative areas. Our collective disdain of Comcast appears to be one of just a few things that easily bridges our deep partisan divides.

Still, after decades of disinformation on this front, ISPs have been very effective in getting people to believe that building your own broadband networks is a vile socialist cabal that always ends in wasted taxpayer money and tears. But again, these towns and cities wouldn't even be considering this if they were happy with incumbent broadband options. These attempts to demonize local broadband networks successfully obfuscate the fact that incumbent ISPs like Comcast are dictating both state and federal policies that are only making our broadband connectivity and competition problems worse.

With ISP lobbyists only making already frustrated towns and cities angrier with the net neutrality repeal and attack on consumer privacy laws, they've only guaranteed that more towns and cities than ever before will be pursuing the roll-your-own option when it comes to broadband. And it's only a matter of time before people catch on and these state-level bans start to be dismantled. If ISPs like Comcast and AT&T don't like it, they have an obvious solution: actually start competing and provide better, faster, cheaper service.