Communities: Get Off Your Assets and Get Better Broadband
America sits between a digital rock and a political hard place when it comes to broadband. If we're going to claw out of this mess, it will belocal communities that save the day by cultivating local assets.
The rock is the sad state of broadband: pathetic speeds relative to the needs of businesses and institutions, high prices for those speeds, crappy or no coverage in quite a few rural and low-income urban communities. It's ridiculous how often we trot out the line about how important broadband is to our economic revival while clearly ignoring what economic development professionals tell us.
In a national survey of these professionals, 25 percent said they need at least 100 Mbps of broadband speed to impact local economies by attracting new businesses, making current businesses more competitive and increasing individuals' earning potential. Around 35 percent said they need 500 Mbps or more. FCC data last year revealed that 60 percent of Americans can't even get 3 Mbps. So why are people swooning over this week's FCC report showing ISPs are delivering 96 percent of advertised speeds that don't mean jack to businesses and entrepreneurial individuals trying to make a bigger buck?
Alas, our hard place is created by those choice elected representatives who sell out the public interest to the legions of lobbyists that heavily influence -- if not outright draft -- legislation that stymies broadband competition. For example 19 states currently have laws that threaten to turn them into broadband backwaters by stifling municipal broadband solutions. But muni networks in Chattanooga, Tenn.; Lafayette, La.; Bristol, Va., and elsewhere are the only ISPs giving local economies gigabit speeds!
As Benjamin Lennett of the Foundation's Open Technology Institute states in a USA Today article, "We have to figure out a way to increase the level of competition or we are all going to pay through the nose, and speeds are not going to keep up." The incumbent telcos' and cable companies' party line is that dozens of providers in every state provide "robust competition." The stats that put the lie to this claim are ones revealing that in many states 75 percent, 80 percent and even 95 percent of the market is owned by just two or three giant corporations. Dozens of robust competitors fight over the crumbs.
Want better broadband? Do it yourself
The rallying cry of every community that wants better broadband should be, "if incumbents won't build it and the Feds can't fund it, dammit, we'll do it ourselves!"
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