Info World, February 6, 2014
When Time Warner and Embarq (now named CenturyLink) couldn’t provide affordable, high-speed broadband, the residents of Wilson, a small town in North Carolina, decided to do it themselves. In 2006, Wilson built a municipally owned fiber-to-the home network that offers television, telephone, and broadband services at relatively low cost.
In response, Time Warner cut rates and boosted speeds a bit — but that’s not all. The cable giant, along with allies AT&T and CenturyLink, poured more than $1 million into the campaign coffers of North Carolina politicians, according to a report by Common Cause and the ILSR (Institute for Local Self Reliance). In 2011, the lobbying effort paid off: The state legislature passed a bill making it nearly impossible for other communities to build their own broadband networks.
North Carolina is hardly alone; 18 other states also have yielded to lobbying efforts by cable and telecom giants and passed similar legislation. The legislature of a 20th state, Kansas, is currently debating a law that would squelch local broadband projects there as well. And there’s a bill pending in the Utah state legislature that would forbid a regional fiber consortium from expanding beyond the 16 cities it is currently authorized to serve with FTTH (fiber to the home) networks.
Big Cable is throwing money at local politicians to try to get the anti-municipal-broadband law passed, Mitchell tells me. The Kansas Cable Telecommunications Association (which includes Time Warner, Cox, Comcast, and Eagle) has given $60,000 in campaign contributions recently, and Cox by itself pitched in another $80,000 in 2012, says Mitchell, who works for the ILSR. AT&T contributed $120,000, although Ma Bell may not be working to pass the bill, he adds.
FTTH is already here
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about municipally owned fiber to the home deployments in Stockholm and Leverett, Mass. But you don’t need to go to Sweden or western Massachusetts to see public FTTH in action.
According to the ILSR, there are already 89 communities in the United States with a publicly owned FTTH network reaching most of the population; 74 with publicly owned cable reaching most of the community; 180 communities with a public FTTH network reaching part of the city; and 40 communities in 13 states with a publicly owned network offering speeds of 1Gbps and higher.
A story in the New York Times this week gives an indication of how residents and businesses in Chattanooga, Tenn., are benefiting from that city’s publicly owned fiber network. As the Times put it, “For less than $70 a month, consumers enjoy an ultra-high-speed fiber-optic connection that transfers data at one gigabit per second. That is 50 times the average speed for homes in the rest of the country, and just as rapid as service in Hong Kong, which has the fastest Internet in the world.”