High-speed internet and robust infrastructure is often the life blood of growing communities looking to attract high tech business and satisfy citizens. In most cases, however, residents and businesses only have access to one, or at the most two, broadband internet providers. You'll usually have access to broadband cable as one option and DSL as the other. So, municipal internet -- where cities and towns build out and run their own broadband service -- is an obvious solution.
BroadbandNow, which is a company that keeps tabs on broadband availability across the United States, has published a rather sobering study on the state of municipal broadband. Sadly, the company has discovered that over half of U.S. states (26 to be exact) have either outright banned the formation of municipal broadband networks or limit their expansion. While municipal internet seems like a win-win for Americans, big telecom is doing everything in its power to crush them at every turn.
Unsurprisingly, these big companies like Charter, Comcast, and AT&T have incredible resources dedicated to lobbying, and when local politicians get a whiff of potential campaign donations, their legs (and spines) turn to jelly. According to BroadbandNow, the telecom industry spent nearly $100 million on lobbying in 2018 (federal and state combined) to stifle this growing competitive thread.
So how strong is the competition? There are over 500 municipal broadband networks across the U.S. and another 300 cooperatives serving communities. The list is slowly growing, but is being hampered by state regulations.
Big telecoms lobby hard to ensure their monopolies and prevent upstarts from encroaching on their service areas. That's what makes municipal broadband efforts so hard to get off the ground. In many cases, municipal broadband efforts spring up because the aforementioned big telecoms either 1) refuse to service a community, citing costs or 2) fail to deliver higher speeds for residents, again citing costs.
Such was the case with Greenlight, a municipal broadband service that started in Wilson, NC. Before Wilson laid its own fiber cable, delivering 1Gbps service to residents, the fastest internet speeds available came from CenturyLink with its dreadfully slow 10Mbps DSL service. The Greenlight story took a turn for the worse, however, which you can read about in one of our older pieces.
To see a full list of the states that provide high barriers to entry for municipal internet or outright forbid their creation can visit BroadbandNow for a complete rundown of the laws enacted.