The FCC has been debating whether to outlaw the existence of internet fast lanes. However, we forget that, while large portions of the population are arguing over how to access faster internet, there is a significant portion of society that has no access to the internet. Local internet service providers may be able to combat this problem and are the bane of the national ISPs’ existence. Take Chattanooga, TN, for example. In Tennessee, one out of every five people are without internet and the the city of Chattanooga’s public electric utility, EPB, wants to change that, but the major telecom companies want to stop it.
Not long ago, EPB and city officials recognized that the city’s smart-grid power infrastructure could also be used to provide consumers with high-speed internet access (up to 1GB/sec). Unencumbered, however, by an incentive to continue to squeeze more money out of users for less service, the utility and the local officials set in motion plans pursue the smart-grid and now Chattanooga enjoys one of the finest internet services in the United States.
Unfortunately, the story isn’t the same in the rest of the country where the nation-wide telecoms (Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, etc.) fight the local utilities through legislation. Lobbying dollars go to back politicians and campaigns that pass laws banning municipal ISPs from competing with the telecom companies. In the absence of their ability to win on the merit of their product, these companies result to crony-politics to keep competition from entering their playing field.
It would be great to see systems like that in Chattanooga catch on and spread like wildfire. Unfortunately, the legislative trajectory seems to be moving the other direction at the state level. There is still hope, however, as FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has stated that he will preempt state laws that prevent competition and broadband access.
It is all too doubtful, however, that the old lobbyist will make good on his word. There’s a lot of money to be made in the telecommunication and data industries. Those dollars go a long way when we’re talking about campaign contributions and incentives to ignore the good of common people.
Joshua is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire. You can follow him on Twitter @Joshual33.