Tech giants, Democrats in Congress, and more than 22 states are fighting the FCC to protect net neutrality. But the most powerful weapon could be municipal governments themselves.
The FCC has been criticized for gutting net neutrality despite overwhelming demand to protect it. Even worse, FCC commissioner Ajit Pai has been assailed by accusations cronyism and corruption, especially given his strong ties to mega-ISP Verizon.
But what if ISPs weren’t so easily controlled by the FCC?
Enter the State Colorado, which could become ground zero for the net neutrality resistance. Earlier this month, the municipality Fort Collins, CO approved a $150 million budget to initiate a homegrown, locally-controlled ISP network. That homegrown ISP, in turn, would determine rules like net neutrality, not to mention fees charged to its citizens.
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But that looks like the tip the iceberg.
Fort Collins is just one dozens municipalities in Colorado that voted to protect their ability to create a local ISP.
Amazingly, municipal internet networks are illegal in Colorado. Back in 2005, Senate Bill 152 was passed. It made it illegal to use taxpayer dollars to construct a local broadband network. Of course, that bill was largely created by the lobbying efforts major ISPs like Comcast and CenturyLink, both entrenched Colorado broadband providers.
Now, a total 117 communities within Colorado have successfully voted against Senate Bill 152. As a result, they have protected their ability to develop their own broadband networks.
Last November, as the FCC prepared to gut net neutrality, another 19 joined the group (see diagram above). Fort Collins is simply one the first communities to seriously act on that right.
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According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, the latest batch votes were a landslide. More than 83 percent voters wanted out Senate Bill 152 in the November round. “These cities and counties recognize that they cannot count on Comcast and CenturyLink alone to meet local needs, which is why you see overwhelming support even in an f-year election,” said Christopher Mitchell, director the Community Broadband Networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.
All which spells a major problem for entrenched ISPs — in Colorado and beyond. Instead enjoying outright monopolies and elevated rates, the presence a local ‘utility ISP’ spells serious competition.
The biggest reason is that a municipally-created ISP is designed to meet the needs its citizens, both in terms service and price. That means that if a local community wants net neutrality and affordable speeds, then the locally-created network will strive to deliver just that.
It also means that citizens less capable paying for internet access have a greater chance receiving it.
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Actually, there’s another Colorado municipality that fers its own broadband. Back in 2011, the town Longmont started fering a high-speed, 1 gigabyte/second service for $49.95. That crushed the next competitor, which fers a 20Mbps connection.
As last summer, the Longmont service had 90,000 takers. That’s more than half all residents, according to the city.
So who’s next?
Importantly, voting against Senate Bill 152 merely gives cities and counties the right to build their own networks. But given enough outcry over issues like net neutrality, bad service, and high prices, it’s likely a few other homegrown ISPs will appear in the coming months and years.