back to article If cities want to run their own broadband, let 'em do it, Prez Obama tells FCC

President Obama wants US internet watchdog the FCC to overturn bans on city-run broadband in America. The White House has sent FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, and his fellow commissioners, a letter requesting city governments be allowed to build and administer their own fiber networks. "Today, President Obama is announcing a new …

  1. KA1AXY

    Republicans on govt regulations

    Usually bad for business, except when they prevent competition.

  2. Marketing Hack Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    If it motivates Comcast, Time-Warner Cable and AT&T to provide better service and the municipal service is fully funded by subscribers and not general city or property taxes, then I am all for it.

    1. Cipher
      FAIL

      ahem...

      I forsee a massive, bloated bureaucracy unable to deliver on the great promises that will be made. I see taxpayers being hit in the gut for this, and pitiful service delivered.

      Now if the city contracted with Google to come to their city... Maybe...

      1. Fluffy Bunny

        I have written quite often about the apalling NBN (Australia's National Broadband Network) in the past. My complaint has never been about providing broadband, rather the apalling vision embodied in it's implementation. It was little more than a vote buyer in the hands of cynical pollies.

        On a city sized scale though, it works much better. It would have to be implemented properly, not creating a massive new monopoly. Also not subsidized by the entire population. Transact provides a good example of how to do it here.

        1. Medixstiff

          "Also not subsidized by the entire population."

          Unfortunately there always has to be some subsidising country comms. in one way or another.

          It's great to say "well don't live in the country then" but then people who say that don't particularly like it when that argument is flung back at them with 'well don't eat the food grown in the country then"

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "Unfortunately there always has to be some subsidising country comms. in one way or another."

            Universal coverage of anything requires some socialisation of cost.

            In the socialised model everyone pays the same but the 80% who are relatively cheap to serve each fund a small portion of the 20% who are expensive to serve.

            In the fully market driven model the 80% pay a price much closer to cost which leaves no money to subsidise the 20%. The 20% then can't afford to pay the price demanded and the supplier declines to provide service citing no demand.

      2. DougS Silver badge

        The "bloated bureaucracy" is delivering just fine

        He gave the speech in Cedar Falls, IA which has gigabit broadband available to its residents from the city. They also have the option of cable or DSL. Even if the bloated bureaucracy can't deliver, or some people are philosophically opposed to government involvement, they still have other options.

        If they waited for Google they'd wait 50 years at the rate Google is rolling it out.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Yeah, I can see what you're trying to say there

      " and the municipal service is fully funded by subscribers and not general city or property taxes,"

      But wouldn't most cities put it to a vote?

  3. Jeffrey Nonken Silver badge
    Mushroom

    "'...is the wrong path forward,' industry body CITA claimed."

    Hey, he's absolutely right. The correct path forward is for incumbent service providers to actually compete by offering superior service, instead of abusing the legislature by bribing them to pass laws preventing competition.

    And it would be nice if they didn't lock out any further competition. Open up their infrastructure and charge reasonable rates so other businesses can build on them.

    1. Ole Juul

      wrong path?

      The problem is that the incumbents have positioned themselves as them vs. us. The only way to fight that is to compete with them. If they want to come over to the customer's (or society's) side, then fine. But I don't see that happening, so municipal funding to help "our" side is actually in order here.

    2. Matt Bryant Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Re: Jeffrey Nonken

      ".....and charge reasonable rates...." Er, "reasonable" by whose estimation? The freetards? The telco shareholders? The local city mayor, the county, the state or the Federal Government? Please state whom exactly do you see as having the right to set prices, then go check with a lawyer to see if he/she agrees. I bet they don't.

      1. P. Lee Silver badge

        Re: Jeffrey Nonken

        If the city is providing it as a service, "reasonable" normally would be some capital costs+running costs+ investment costs calculation, rather than pricing as high as you think the market will bear.

        The cableco's have nothing to fear if city hall can only produce a bloated bureaucracy and rubbish service.

        Using the city as a coordination point seems like a good idea for an infrastructure service. They have good links with infrastructure planners and contractors and have an overview of what is required for the city as a whole.

        1. Tom 13

          Re: capital costs+running costs+ investment costs calculation

          Right, because in the US

          - there are NO example of overpriced public works projects made with substandard materials (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig).

          - certainly no mismanaged salary budgets (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/mar/27/even-with-big-salaries-metro-cant-fill-its-jobs/?page=all, http://wtop.com/news/2013/02/some-metro-employees-make-150-percent-of-base-salary-in-overtime-hours/)

          - and local governments always follow all NTSB recommendations (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/June_2009_Washington_Metro_train_collision, In 2006, the NTSB cited the 1000-Series cars as "vulnerable to catastrophic telescoping damage and complete loss of occupant survival space in a longitudinal end-structure collision". It recommended refurbishment of the entire series after a 2004 collision at the Woodley Park station in which a 1000-Series Rohr car telescoped into another train.[28] In this case, NTSB's Hersman confirmed that, "the first car [of the striking train] overrode the rear car [of the struck train], and much of the survivable space on that first car of the striking train was compromised".[7] The NTSB called for the accelerated retirement of the 1000-Series cars, or urged that they be "retrofitted with crashworthiness collision protection that is comparable to 6000-Series car railcars."[29] ).

          - and all such systems will be fully funded to maintain them at adequate levels to support expected needs (http://archive.nacwa.org/private/news/031104a.html, http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/Assets/2014/09/SurfaceTransportationIntergovernmentalChallengesFunding.pdf, http://www.dot.state.mn.us/i35wbridge/)

    3. Tom 13

      Re: instead of abusing the legislature by bribing them to pass laws preventing competition.

      The odd thing here is that the federal government has a perfectly constitutional tool available to it which would nullify that issue: prohibit regulations from states and cities that interfere with interstate trade. No need to go pointing guns at taxpayers to get money for expensive fiber systems that won't deliver bang for the buck.

  4. jjcoolaus

    Obama for Australian Prime Minister in 2016 please!

    Our current one believes that:

    - climate change doesn't exist

    - the current internet speed of 6mbps average is fine

    - actual broadband is a "video entertainment system" that serves no useful purpose to the economy

    - TV shouldn't be broadcast over the internet, so you don't need that high speed fibre

    - satelite TV is king

    - anyone building new infrastructure should be regulated out of business, so that Telstra stays rich

    - cyber security in Australia isn't an issue

    - recording everyone's upload and download amounts is a great way to catch copyright infringers

    - having a climate change minister is a waste of money (position cut)

    - having a science minister is a waste of money (position cut)

    and so on...

  5. thomas k.

    pouring billions into US broadband infrastructure ...

    And succeeding in giving us the slowest speeds at the highest prices with the worst service in the industrialized world.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: pouring billions into US broadband infrastructure ...

      In one of the BIGGEST countries in the world, you may note. Geography affects rollout costs, and the heart of the US isn't exactly teeming with people. I'm having trouble finding ANY country of a comparable size that has fared any better with universal rollout.

      1. Swarthy Silver badge

        Re: pouring billions into US broadband infrastructure ...@ Charles 9

        If it were universal roll-out, I would be inclined to agree with you. However, it isn't. There are places not more than 30 miles from a significant city that has no cable, no broadband, and not much in the way of 'high-speed' internet. I have lived in one such place, the only internet option was dial-up until about 2005. This was not in the heartland either; but rather near the east coast - no mountains, no swamps, no difficult geography, but also not many people.

        1. Charles 9 Silver badge

          Re: pouring billions into US broadband infrastructure ...@ Charles 9

          Probably because the municipal government wouldn't agree to an exclusive agreement. That's part of the problem.

  6. Charles 9 Silver badge

    I thought part of the problem wasn't regulations but contracts imposed by ISPs simply for getting the service to these rural communities. Given the terrible RoI on rural hookups, many ISPs won't do it without exclusivity agreements (guaranteed RoI, IOW). How would any new regulation get around basic contract law?

    1. Ole Juul

      I thought part of the problem wasn't regulations but contracts imposed by ISPs simply for getting the service to these rural communities.

      Perhaps you're from Seoul or Tokyo, but where I come from we wouldn't call San Francisco a "rural community". That project was probably doomed to failure anyway, but in its wake we saw (as the Economist writes) "Together with their wired divisions they vociferously denounced any public money assigned to private city-wide networks, even lobbying for laws banning it." However, in some cases, as in the little Canadian town of Olds, a municipality can form an ISP as a private company. I don't know US law, but it is possible that even to do that, there will need to be some changes.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Olds is lucky. The rollout was supported by the Alberta government (a C$2.5m grant for starters) plus they didn't have to worry about the trunk access because of the Alberta Supernet, another project being developed independently by the province.

        I can show a related story in Grant County, WA. Supposedly a municipal effort built by forward-thinking municipal authorities in a permissive state (Washington has laws allowing municipal authorities to build wholesale trunk lines). Still, it begs a question. For one, why here and not nearby Seattle with its millions of people...not to mention tech-heavy Redmond? For another, how did they get high speeds up the line at the trunk providers? Last I read, Grant County got lucky because being first and being in the cold North meant they attracted datacenters that were willing to pay top dollar for fat data pipes. So you wonder if a similar setup can still be profitable for a strictly home-based community.

        1. Josh 14

          Who knows why not in Seattle or Redmond, but I do know that Tacoma, WA has a city network, known as Click! Network. It's typically a bit undersubscribed, and so has a surprisingly high throughput.

          The city manages the actual hardware of the network, and three different operators provide the actual end user connection as the ISP. I will say that the three ISP's are nothing special and have VERY short business hours, weekdays only, but the price and performance made me a little sad to move outside the city limits.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Hmm. Yeah, generally utility type infrastructure has a 10, 20 maybe even 30 year break even point on investment. Such a long pay back was the only way to make the utilities affordable to consumers. If providing electricity, water, gas and sewers to a house costs $20K and the utility wants it paid back in, say, three years - a lot of homes would be off-grid and not through choice. $750 a month bills just to pay back the cost of provision before any usage charges are added.

      The only way that banks will lend money to the utilities to do that is if there's something in place to make sure that nothing gets in the way of that payback. So, I can see the issue. If there's no guarantee of stability during the payback period, the utility probably won't install any infrastructure in the first place.

      The probable 'fix' for this is to publicly fund utility provision, removing the risk.

  7. Stretch

    "The laws, designed to promote the growth of private enterprise over public services"

    The laws, designed to create monopolies for a few campaign contributing companies...

    FTFY

  8. cs94njw

    The technology isn't rocket science these days, and I think there was an article where some guy installed a microwave link on his house, and then relayed the internet to his local village.

    Get the city to buy a fat pipe from a provider, and then the city can install the infrastructure locally.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "The technology isn't rocket science these days......

      ...Get the city to buy a fat pipe from a provider, and then the city can install the infrastructure locally."

      I suspect it's harder than you think. In fact I know it is. Why not set up a city ISP and your infrastructure and come back in a year and tell us how you got on? It would make a great article.

      1. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Those fat pipes incur continual costs that make it a crap shoot. The smaller the location, the less likely it can pan out. Some of those supposed locations that are out of the way yet have fat pipes usually experienced some lucky break. Olds, Alberta and Grant County, Washington both attracted data centers because their northern location reduces cooling costs, a prospect that's less likely in, say, Tuscon, Arizona.

        It's a very basic question. Braodband is great and all...but who foots the bill? Not just for the initial infrastructure, which is significant, but also for the continual upkeep costs in a community without a lot of people to spread it around?

  9. Matt Bryant Silver badge
    Facepalm

    Lots of fun ahead!

    So, City A decides to offer a broadband service using taxpayers' funds. Great! I assume that therefore means (on pain of plenty of lawsuits) that the City will supply exactly the same service to all taxpayers in the City boundary? Can a citizen sue if someone a mile closer to the cabinet is getting 2Mbps more than they are? Would City A have the funds for such suits, or choose to avoid them by crippling all links to the same speed?

    What if a citizen moves to City A, does that citizen have essentially free broadband up until the start of the new tax year, or will the City have to stump up for a special tax billing system that charges monthly? What if they move out of the City before the end of a tax year they have paid for, do they get a rebate?

    And those on social, I assume they get their cable service for free paid for by those citizens that do work? Yeah, have fun with that vote-killer! What if there is more than one family in a block, do they each get a line equal to an ordinary house or do those that pay higher house taxes subsidise those in city center blocks? Do you charge by the property or the number of taxpayers at the address?

    And what if a citizen gets their line and sells access to his WiFi to his neighbours Outside the boundary, will the City be policing routers to check the devices connecting to a line belong to the taxpayer the line is allocated to? Wait, won't that have the Tinfoil Brigade shrieking about "privacy intrusions" and insisting the City is building a database of devices "for surveillance"? What if a person from outside the City boundaries visits a home in the City, do they have to pay a temporary tax to use the WiFi or watch Netflix?

    Yes, it's time to break out the popcorn on this one!

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