Broadband internet

Your cable company probably ranks No. 1 or 2 among the companies you hate the most. Having a fast internet connection at your house is almost as required as having water or electricity. Unfortunately, most of us only have one good option for internet service, which means poor service, slow speeds and high prices. But that doesn’t have to remain the status quo.

Monticello, a city of 12,000 residents, was one of the first in the U.S. to pass a plan to roll out municipal fiber. It started when businesses were experiencing very slow or sometimes no internet. They were losing business. When they asked their internet provider to help, they would get canned responses refusing their pleas. So the business owners took their case to the city.

It’s been 10 years since Monticello decided to offer its residents internet, and the city is now one of the most connected cities in the country. For $65 per month you can get up to one gigabit (that’s 1000 megabits) speeds. I’d wager that most of you are paying more than that for far less speed.

In the past 10 years, many cities around the U.S. have implemented their own municipal fiber. Some of them make so much money from it that they are using the excess to keep water bills lower for everyone. During the past 10 years of cities rolling out their own internet, I have not heard of one failing.

So far the only resistance to municipal fiber has been from existing cable companies. That happened in Monticello. The local internet provider sued the city and stalled the rollout by more than a year. During that time, that provider hurriedly upgraded their own network to provide better service and tried to lock in as many residents as it could to contracts. As we can see, their plan only served to delay the inevitable.

Today, 26 states (including Minnesota) have laws that outright ban municipal internet or built barriers to creating a municipal internet. You only need one guess as to how those laws were passed. Unwilling to compete, internet providers in these states have turned to the cheaper alternative, campaign contributions to state lawmakers.

BroadbandNow has compiled a list of states that have barriers on municipal fiber. If you’d like you see the list you can Google “broadbandnow roadblock” to find the article.

In Minnesota, the city must hold a referendum that gains 65 percent of the vote. The cities are also restricted from providing internet if it will compete with an already established provider. The City Council must find that the current provider will not offer the services that would come with the proposed municipal service and then offer up a referendum. That clause is going to invite a lawsuit from the established provider every time. If they lose, they’ll spend lots of money on a campaign to try convince people to vote against the referendum.

Even so, if you look through that report you’ll see that there are plenty of examples of municipal fiber in states that have barriers to entry. I’ve followed a number of campaigns by local service providers only to see them fail and the vote for municipal fiber be approved. Perhaps it could come to a city near you.

Jason Ogaard is a software engineer who formerly lived in Hutchinson. He welcomes your technology questions, and he’ll answer them in this place. Please send your questions to technobabble@hutchinsonleader.com.

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