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The Internet Government Your Rights Online

A State-By-State Guide To Restrictive Community Broadband Laws 160

blottsie writes On Tuesday, President Obama will unveil a dramatic push to improve broadband Internet service for people around the country through community-built municipal broadband networks. Problem is, state legislatures around the country have passed laws making it considerably more difficult for these public Internet projects to get off the ground. In some states, building municipal broadband is prohibited altogether. This piece dives into the state laws standing between us and more competitive Internet service markets.
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A State-By-State Guide To Restrictive Community Broadband Laws

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  • by nickname100 ( 3984971 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:26PM (#48852421)
    I live in GA, and I see that here the service is unregulated. Does that mean that my local municipality can build something out? If so, what is stopping them? I have either Cramcost or AT&T DSL, and I would like the option of Google or some other fiber. Please help me understand!
    • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:32PM (#48852439)

      It means you'd have to get a majority of your neighbors to vote for internet, and in the deep south that kind of collectivism just isn't going to happen except in one of them there big liberal cities, and the big cities have probably already signed exclusive contracts with the cable company.

      • by Alan Shutko ( 5101 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:43PM (#48852507) Homepage

        Exclusive franchises for cable companies have been prohibited by the FCC. [fcc.gov].

        The Communications Act authorizes local franchising authorities to grant one or more franchises within their jurisdiction. However, a local franchising authority may not grant an exclusive franchise, and may not unreasonably withhold its consent for new service.

  • by xxxJonBoyxxx ( 565205 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:29PM (#48852431)

    >> deep-pocketed government entities from undercutting a private sector unable to keep up

    Funniest thing I read all day.

    • "gubmint bad! monopoly i mean capitalism good!"

      *drool* snort

      • by silfen ( 3720385 )

        FTFY: tax-financed gubmint monopoly bad! consumer choice and free markets good!

        ("*drool* snort"? You should have that looked at.)

        • educate yourself

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/N... [wikipedia.org]

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/R... [wikipedia.org]

          then form an opinion

          do you honestly believe that if government wasn't there the big guys would fade away? with weak government, the power vacuum is filled even more by plutocrats. they *want* a weak government. without government you think monopolies don't or won't exist? less government means less *regulation*, they gobble up more, you get less choice buddy. and you get less legal recourse from being shafted

          what you want, if you follow through on the coherent thought, is less corruption, not a weaker government that is even yet more beholden to money. not possible? study the laws on corruption in the nordic countries, you know, those evil socialist horrors that are actually richer, happier, and more upwardly mobile meritocracies than the usa pretends it is, but is rapidly losing with a shrinking middle class and corrupt congresswhores beholden to the financial powers that less government unleashes even more

          good luck kid escaping the bullshit mythology

          • by silfen ( 3720385 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @11:22PM (#48853817)

            less government means less *regulation*, they gobble up more, you get less choice buddy. and you get less legal recourse from being shafted what you want, if you follow through on the coherent thought, is less corruption, not a weaker government that is even yet more beholden to money. not possible?

            After finding that wonderful article on rent seeking (although you still don't seem to understand that "rent seeking" is a failure of government, not markets), I suggest you look up the articles on "regulatory capture" and "public choice theory". More regulation is the primary mechanism by which "plutocrats" engage in rent seeking and create monopolies, and politicians and government employees invariably support them in that effort, not because they are bad people (most of them are quite well meaning), but because that's the way such systems function.

            without government you think monopolies don't or won't exist?

            Government is responsible for creating artificial monopolies. So, "without government" there wouldn't be any artificial monopolies. Would we be dragged into a quagmire of natural monopolies if government got completely out of the business of regulating markets? Nobody knows for certain because it has never been tried, but given what we know, it seems very unlikely.

            study the laws on corruption in the nordic countries, you know, those evil socialist horrors that are actually richer, happier, and more upwardly mobile meritocracies than the usa pretends it is

            Take it from an ex-northern European: you don't know what you're talking about. I suggest you read "The Almost Nearly Perfect People" by Booth. Northern Europe is neither socialist, nor a meritocracy, nor particularly successful. And even if it were any of those things, we couldn't implement the Nordic model in the US.

              • by silfen ( 3720385 )

                The first two links cook up an arbitrary measure of "prosperity":

                Legatum's Prosperity Index takes economic metrics into account, but also factors entrepreneurial opportunities and a host of other factors around quality of life and well-being

                For the NYTimes article, note that even according to their numbers, the US lead in terms of median income is mainly shrinking relative to Norway and Canada, two countries with small populations and huge natural resources.

                Other parts of the NYTimes article are just bogus

            • Would we be dragged into a quagmire of natural monopolies if government got completely out of the business of regulating markets?

              You keep using that word, I do not think it means [wikipedia.org] what you think it means.

              • by silfen ( 3720385 )

                No, I don't keep using the word "natural monopoly" other than to tell people that the concept is bullshit. Nobody has ever demonstrated the existence of a permanent natural monopoly in anything.

                • No, I don't keep using the word "natural monopoly" other than to tell people that the concept is bullshit.

                  So you are of the opinion that in (for example) industries with large fixed investments such as water distribution, electrical distribution etc. that the most efficient use of resources would be to have multiple companies competing for the same customers? That is, that there would naturally develop a situation where multiple companies would lay roads, or water/sewage lines, or electrical lines to your house, and that that would lead to a more efficient use of resources? (E.g. lower total cost for the system

                  • by silfen ( 3720385 )

                    Just a cursory googling for example brought up: Are Municipal Electricity Distribution Utilities Natural Monopolies?, Massimo Filippini, Annals of Public and Cooperative Economics Volume 69, Issue 2, pages 157â"174, June 1998, DOI: 10.1111/1467-8292.00077. Which points to that quite nicely. I.e. both natural monopoly and "permanent", i.e. have been so for a long time.

                    The fact that your paper from 1998 even still asks the question shows you that the question certainly wasn't settled by then, so clearly,

                    • The fact that your paper from 1998 even still asks the question shows you that the question certainly wasn't settled by then

                      Hardly. There are still papers published on Darwin's theory of evolution, how it applies in different situations, addressing paradoxes arising from the theory etc. This doesn't mean that the issue wasn't "settled" long ago.

                      The reason these require "large fixed investments" is not because there is a "natural monopoly" it is because power companies, electric companies, and municipal providers like it that way.

                      So the price of building roads, erecting power poles, and building a power station are artificially raised due to regulatory capture by how much? It's not like there aren't private roads, and it's not like they're built cheaper, in fact they cost as much as building a road anywhere.

                      And wh

  • Correct me if I'm wrong, please, I don't mind.

    That being said, I was under the impression that - yes there are some laws/ordinances prohibiting (or outright banning) municipal broadband from happening - it was COST and MAINTENANCE of the actual infrastructure that was stopping these communities.

    • Re:Hmm (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Alan Shutko ( 5101 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:44PM (#48852517) Homepage

      These laws have been passed because certain municipalities have been able to successfully cover the cost and maintenance of their own networks.

      • Well put.

      • by silfen ( 3720385 )

        These laws have been passed because certain municipalities have been able to successfully cover the cost and maintenance of their own networks.

        Yes, they have been able to "successfully cover them" by diverting taxes from homeowners for this wasteful pet project, and for giving themselves sweet deals for easement and digging up roads.

        • by chihowa ( 366380 )

          Just like they did with water, sewage, and the other utilities...

          If only we had corporate monopolies for those too! I'm looking forward to my monthly sewage cap.

      • by Xipher ( 868293 )

        Yep, like Cedar Falls Utilities (which Obama visited last week) which has been doing this since 1995.

        http://blog.cfu.net/2015/01/th... [cfu.net]

  • This is why we need a federal government to put the hammer down. To hell with 'states rights'!

    • I couldn't give two shits about my state (the 10th I've lived in) of Texas, and am pretty sure even the idiots with the "Secede" bumper stickers feel more loyalty to the US than they do the old boy network that runs this place. I'm an American that happens to live in the region known as Texas. I sure wouldn't mind seeing all the anti-muni laws tossed out across the country. I would gladly fork $5k over to have true high speed broadband delivered to my house on the restriction that anyone could provide me wi

  • It seems to me the article addresses less than half the problem. In many cities and counties, one cable has been granted a legal franchise - effectively a government-enforced monopoly outlawing other companies providing better service to compete. Because right now providers are needing to build out fiber networks anyway, overbuilders who compete with incumbents have done quite well, where they are allowed to do so. That say this is because they are going into areas where Comcast or Time Warner has an existing COAX network. The new competitor builds a FIBER network. Comcast doesn't have a huge advantage since they also have to build their own fiber network to compete.

    The article assumes without evidence that politicians would do a better job of running an ISP than processionals can. Looking at the actual results from city projects vs private over builders suggests the opposite - frequently after cities make a huge mess of the project hiring the mayor's brother-in-law to build it at 250% of the going rate, they end up selling the half-completed network to an experienced company who finishes the job and provides good service.

    Can we get a list of states or major cities that allow private competition? I know some parts of the Austin metro area have four or five companies competing, and you can get good service at a great price.

    • That say this is because they are going into areas where Comcast or Time Warner has an existing COAX network. The new competitor builds a FIBER network. Comcast doesn't have a huge advantage since they also have to build their own fiber network to compete.

      The technology already exists to crank up COAX cable speeds to 1Gbit.
      Docsis 3.1 is allegedly going to be 10/1 Gbit capable, though it will depend on the quality of the COAX to your home.
      The only catch is that the hardware isn't ready yet, it's still being designed and built [multichannel.com]

      • That's true, my cable company, Suddenlink, is delivering high speeds with coax for the last mile. They are spending a billion dollars* or something to upgrade their network to make that happen. At the same time, a competitor can spend the same billion dollars to build fiber, or to build their own high-speed coax. The old, soggy coax that Comcast already has can't provide those speeds, so they have to do new build just like the new competitor does, partially erasing Comcast's advantage from being there f

    • by riverat1 ( 1048260 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @09:16PM (#48853303)

      There are hundreds (maybe thousands) of Public Utility Districts in the country that provide electricity and telephone service to their customers often with lower cost and higher quality of service than the for profit competitors. They have boards elected from the customer base and their only focus is providing the service to their customers. I see no reason that can't work for internet connections as well.

      • >. . I see no reason that can't work for internet connections as well.

        That is an interesting point. I'm not sure about all of the reasons one has often worked well and the hasn't. Perhaps having a board of volunteer citizens deploying a brand new $200 million technology project is different from having them oversee the maintaince of 100-year-old power lines in many ways. If a private company, such as the Edison Company, had already built a high-speed fiber network like they did the power network, an

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:45PM (#48852521)

    On one hand, free access to information is arguably a fundamental right. The simple fact is, our governments are moving more and more towards online services. It's more painful, for example, in my state, to attempt to set up an appointment at the DMV via phone, than it is to click a few buttons on a web form. (And heaven forfend you simply show up without an appointment - hope you have a week of vacation saved up. I'm only slightly exaggerating.)

    On the other hand, the Federal government has no mandate, nor any business whatsoever, backing public Internet access projects. This is solely within the domain of the powers of individual states.

    On that third mutated hand, a man in a funny hat named Lincoln bitchslapped the sovereign power of states (admittedly, for perhaps worthy goals) with extreme prejudice, so screw that noise - grind the states and municipalities into dust if they want to suck the phallus of monopolizing providers.

  • by tjstork ( 137384 ) <todd.bandrowsky@ g m a i l . c om> on Monday January 19, 2015 @06:54PM (#48852587) Homepage Journal

    Laws prohibiting municipal broadband are entirely anti-city. In a country where politics is such that cities are routinely decried (while ironically states redistribute their tax revenues to rural areas and suburbs), I think it is time to frame broadband rights as a freedom from government for cities.

    Cities should be allowed to be more independent from the states that hold them. They should not be stripped of the competitive advantages that localized economies of scale provide. They should be allowed to offer their own utilities, to toll the interstates that cut through them, and they shouldn't have to pay a gasoline tax that largely serves rural interests, and above all, part of that independence should be to allow them to offer broadband.

    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      This is European History all over again. You know, where certain villages were allowed to call themselves city and were granted additional rights.

    • by k6mfw ( 1182893 )
      And also broadband internet is essential infrastructure for businesses like good roads and schools for a successful city. If roads (and internet) are bad, many businesses are not going to set up shop in town. They will go someplace else and the city will become third-world.
  • That the federal government is going to have to step in and prohibit state/county/city/other legislation restricting internet access. Such a thing is not without recent precedent. Our state recently enacted a law that prohibits counties/cities/towns/etc from enacting gun laws so that state laws could be followed.

    I remember a few years ago Verizon stopped expanding FIOS and cited just these sort of local restrictions as the primary reason they stopped. Pity for those of you who don't have FTTP service
    • What if state or municipalities built their own cell phone network in the 1990s or in 2005? Wouldn't it be crap today?

      And we are talking about wired internet here mostly, is that how it works in the future? I don't think so.

      Wireless is the future, the same way that phones, while not replacing the desktop entirely, are your computer "on the road" and for a fair percentage of people their only "computer".

      And wouldn't municipality internet be a patchwork quilt with varying degrees of quality, just like
      • You've misunderstood my proposal. I am not proposing that the state or any government pay for anything.

        I am proposing that the federal government step in to overrule local laws in place that prevent commercial businesses from running their own infrastructure and selling their own service. You may not be aware, but that is actually the situation today in much of the USA.

        If bob's HISpeed LowDrag ISP shows up with the cash to lay lines for a service, they should be allowed to do it. Certainly there should
        • That is a gray area of sorts.

          If I were to identify something I am not happy with, it is the government approving all these mergers so we are in a situation with few providers.

          The government got "us" into this situation by bad practices, I don't see more bad ideas getting us out of the situation --- it is passing the buck.

          But I did misinterpret what you were advocating.
  • by Ol Olsoc ( 1175323 ) on Monday January 19, 2015 @11:09PM (#48853775)
    There used to be an old joke about the Union guy who told someone that a particular job was his to do, and if someone else did it, he would file a grievance. Then whne they asked the Union guy to do it, he said "No I woul't do it"

    Today, the evilz socialistically guvmint want's to install public broadband? NO no NO! you goddamned commie! Thatz takin away money form the free market!"

    But they don't think there is enough profit, or something, so "NO broadband for you! Fucking ignorant commies anyhow.

    The similarites are kinda cute.

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