Municipal networks versus the cable lobby
California governor Jerry Brown recently signed a bill that restores net neutrality in the state of California. While this legislative decision received a lot of media coverage, another piece of legislation was passed without receiving much attention.
Bill AB 1999 lifts existing restrictions on the creation of municipal broadband networks in California. Prior to this piece of legislation, municipalities had to prove that no entity was willing to provide an internet access service within a certain area to be able to create a publicly owned network. With this restriction lifted, municipalities will be able to create their own broadband network and offer it as an alternative to major ISPs.
ISP giants are currently suing the state of California over the bill that restores net neutrality. These giants have historically been involved in lobbying, and Comcast, AT&T and Charter spent almost $23 million on lobbying in 2018 alone.
The telecom industry has always had financial and legislative clout. The lobbying spending for 2018 suggests that these giants have sufficient financial resources to limit the creation of municipal broadband networks if these infrastructures become too much of a threat.
The benefits of a municipal broadband network
The goals and priorities of a community broadband network are different from those of telecom giants. These small networks are created to boost the local economy. A fast, reliable and affordable internet connection is likely to draw small businesses owners to an area and create jobs as their business grows, besides encouraging local residents to pursue entrepreneurial ventures.
It could also result in more individuals finding work-from-home jobs or accessing educational resources online. These networks also improve access to resources for schools and libraries. Lower internet bills could also result in residents having more money to spend locally.
Publicly owned broadband networks could restore net neutrality de facto, without the need for legislation. Municipal networks would have no apparent interest in controlling the content or the source of the content accessed by users. It’s less likely content providers would be favored over others since the network isn’t operated for profit.
A publicly owned network would also have no interest in monetizing the private data of users. This could result in improved privacy for internet users.
The current and future state of municipal broadband
Even though more than 20 states have laws that limit the creation of these networks, more than 750 communities have access to a muni broadband infrastructure.
The Community Broadband Act would have limited states’ ability to pass laws to prevent municipalities from creating their own broadband networks. The act was introduced in the Senate in March 2017 but didn’t go any further.
With California updating legislation to allow municipalities to offer an alternative to what ISPs provide, it is possible that more states will decide to take a stand against telecom giants. California’s recent repelling of net neutrality and the subsequent lawsuit from ISPs will probably set a precedent for internet-related legislation at the state level.
It will be interesting to see if ISPs respond to California lifting regulations connected to muni broadband networks or if their efforts remain solely focused on the legislation that repeals net neutrality.