Tired of high prices, poor service, awful customer service: Americans want municipal broadband service

Seventy percent of Americans want their municipal governments to provide internet service according to a recent study conducted by the highly-respected Pew Research Center.

Pew surveyed more than 4,000 people and 70% of them said their local governments should be allowed to build their own high-speed networks if their other choices are “too expensive or not good enough.”

Unfortunately, that’s just not possible in many parts of the United States, because more than 20 states have passed laws make if difficult or impossible for local governments to build out and offer high-speed internet services to their residents.

As CheapInternet.com reported, “There are currently 135 municipalities across the nation that have built or announced plans to build their own fiber optic networks to bring dependable, affordable, high-speed internet service to their residents. On the other hand, twenty states have passed laws — at the behest of cable television and telephone company lobbyists — that inhibit the ability of municipalities to offer cable services to their citizens. Some states have passed such restrictive laws that muni networks are virtually impossible to build or operate.”

BroadbandNow.com breaks down the 20 states into seven categories of difficulty and impossibility:

    Administrative Hurdles: North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, Virginia
    No Direct Sale: Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Washington
    Referendum (or Vote): Alabama, Colorado, Louisiana, and Minnesota
    Population Caps: Nevada
    Feasibility Studies: Utah
    Request for Proposal: Michigan
    Excessive Taxes: Florida

It’s easy to see why people love their municipal networks, but changing the laws that prohibit them is far more difficult than it may sound. For example, in 2015 the Federal Communications Commission said municipalities could ignore laws that kept them from building broadband networks, but state legislators, flush with contributions from cable TV companies, eventually kept the prohibitions in place.

Year in and year out, cable TV companies find themselves at the top of lists of companies Americans love to hate. Customers say that prices are outrageously high, service is notoriously poor, and customer service is a joke.

The Pew study, unfortunately, shows that the concept of muni networks is far more popular than broadband subsidies for low-income households. Only 44% of respondents support those subsidies. Most surprising to us, most of the remaining respondents think high-speed internet service “is affordable enough.”

From our point of view, this is the most shocking result of the Pew study. We fully supported the FCC’s recently aborted plan to add Lifeline Broadband to the Obama Phone program. The fact that most Americans think internet service “is affordable enough” frankly leaves us dumbfounded. We know how desperately low-income Americans need more affordable internet service for the same reasons they need Obama Phones — for adults to find jobs and for their children to keep up in school.

It looks as if we need to redouble our efforts in support of the Obama Phone and Lifeline Broadband programs. And your support is needed, too. Please contact your Congressional representatives and the Federal Communications Commission to express your point of view.