In “U.S> Internet Users Pay More for Slower Service,” Susan Crawford, writing for Bloomberg, outlines the state of broadband deployment and access in the United States: The tale isn’t promising, and part of the problem: Legislators and telecom companies working to block getting high-speed service to Americans. Crawford cites the case of North Carolina legislation that blocks municipalities from creating broadband networks; the law was passed after the small town of Wilson built and deployed a 100 Megabyte per second service.
About 40,000 Western North Carolinians don’t have access to such speeds at all, because the infrastructure doesn’t exist. In Buncombe County, according to Federal Communications Commission data, nearly 1,000 residents can’t get broadband.
It’s not free. Fiber connection costs $1,200 to $2,000 a house. It can take two to three years for revenue from any given customer to offset the upfront investment. But then the fiber lasts for decades. Municipal networks are seeing more than half of households adopt the service. And scores of communities are discovering that the networks bring new jobs.
Since the city utility in Chattanooga, Tennessee, began offering fiber-to-the-home, some businesses in Knoxville — a hundred miles to the northeast — have been adding jobs in Chattanooga. Yet when the utility tried in 2011 to expand its fiber services to towns outside Chattanooga, the area’s private carriers initiated a lobbying assault and defeated a bill in the state legislature that would have allowed the expansion.
Also in 2011, six Time Warner Inc. lobbyists persuaded the North Carolina legislature to pass a “level playing field” bill making it impossible for cities in that state to create their own high-speed Internet access networks. Time Warner, which reported $26 billion in revenue in 2010, donated more than $6.3 million to North Carolina politicians over four years. Eighteen other states have laws that make it extremely difficult or impossible for cities to provide this service to their residents.
Still, other experiments are under way. In 2009, when Google Inc. announced it would conduct a fiber-to-the-home pilot project, more than 1,100 communities applied. The Kansas City area, the winner, is now enjoying the launch of a fiber network — the fastest and most reliable way to access the Internet.
Internet access, like electricity, is crucial to the economic and social health of the country. Electricity, however, is provided by largely reliable, taxpayer-supported entities, and no one seems to think the country would be better off if a purely private, wholly deregulated operator were in charge. Such a company might decide to provide service only in New York, Washington and other big cities, at very high rates for those who could afford it, and refuse to serve small towns and less- successful areas. …