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Is the US Municipal Broadband movement about to gather pace?

city council

via Flickr © danxoneil (CC BY 2.0)

  • First the repeal of net neutrality, now the municipal reaction
  • One Colorado city council votes 7 to 0 to build its own broadband network
  • Are there like to be more initiatives on the way?

Big US telcos and cable companies may yet rue the day that their man at the FCC decided to go gangbusters over net neutrality repeal. Instead of a “don’t frighten the horses” rollback, the FCC completely junked the net neutrality regulation put in place by the previous administration, leaving broadband users with no federal level protection from ISP’s looking to throttle, block and generally discriminate.

But it’s turned out that FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s hasty move may have provided the extra push needed to get a municipal broadband alternative properly off the ground in the US. Where before many state laws banning municipal involvement in broadband - heavily promoted and lobbied for by the big ISPs - had helped to keep the muni broadband menace at bay, net neutrality repeal has thrown a huge spotlight on the issue. Despite all the protestations from ISPs last year that they accepted net neutrality itself, it was the “1930s regulation” they couldn’t stomach, Pai’s combative move and his stated reasons for it, have shown this up for the lie it always was.

In response some municipalities are giving muni broadband a second look to provide a much needed alternative to the local monopolies.

One such is Fort Collins, a leafy, prosperous city in Colorado, 60 miles from state capital, Denver. The city council has just voted without dissent (7-0) to push ahead with the construction of a municipal fiber broadband network providing gigabit speeds, choice of service provider and, of course, guaranteed net neutrality with no data caps.

The basic service is to be priced at $70 per month; is to offer universal coverage and use underground wiring. The main build is expected to be completed within five years.

In fact this week’s vote came after a ballot question (where US citizens vote for laws on the election ballot) was approved in November last year, despite the usual desperate lobbying effort by the cable companies and/or telcos.

In this case the anti-muni campaign by the Comcast-backed Colorado Cable Telecommunications Association splashed over $900,000.

Despite the expensive noise the citizens effectively authorised the city to go ahead with a municipal network and this week the council did just that, much to the delight of those lobbying for the initiative.

It’s not just net neutrality that the alternative network is designed to reinstate - the council says it intends to develop online privacy policies to replace the protections removed by the Republican party last year.

The big question now is whether municipal broadband as a response to the removal of net neutrality becomes a ‘thing’ or just a brief outbreak of gesture politics. Either way the big ISPs would probably do best not to start rolling out overtly non-neutral services and restrictions just yet (or even at all) lest they provide more ready ammunition for the municipal broadband advocates.

Not surprisingly Ajit Pai has decided not to show up at next week’s Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas to spread the great news about the ‘Internet freedom’ he’s unleashed, sensing rightly that he will probably be the most unpopular man there.

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