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Future Fibre: Bernie's Broadband Break-up

by on December 13, 2019

easyDNS is pleased to sponsor Jesse Hirsh‘s “Future Fibre / Future Tools” segments of his new email list, Metaviews.

Internet for all comes to the 2020 US Election

Broadband populism finally seems to be having its moment. The combination of high prices and low quality service has not only provoked a growing number of people to complain, but it is now incentivizing politicians to regard telecom reform as a viable and popular policy.

Following on Jeremy Corbyn’s proposed broadband communism, Democratic Presidential Candidate Bernie Sanders has announced his own plans for ensuring Internet infrastructure is widely available and benefits all citizens.

Yet what is particular interesting about Bernie’s proposed plan is how it contrasts with Jeremy Corbyn’s.

The labour party proposal involves the nationalization of British Telecom’s fibre optic networks. In North America that would be the equivalent of the government taking over operation and management of Comcast, AT&T, or Bell Canada.

Yet the flaw in this logic is that these organizations suck, regardless of who owns or is running them. Maybe public ownership and control would be better, but maybe not! And even if it were, how much better would it have to be to not be horrific! Quite a bit I’d imagine.

Hence why the focus of the Future Fibre series is on micro-ISPs. The smaller the organization, the more likely it can be responsive and responsible to the community it serves.

Bernie’s plan goes quite a ways further than Corbyn’s when it comes to recognizing the value of community controlled Internet.

Municipalities across the country running their own internet services have proved they can deliver high-quality service at a fraction of the price of established monopolies. Cities can run their own networks just like a water or electric utility or build out an open access network to allow multiple providers to compete on price and service, rather than one or two conglomerates gouging customers and setting their own prices. Bernie believes it’s time to stop relying on profit-focused corporations to get to universal broadband. Bernie will provide the necessary funding for states, cities, and co-ops to build out their own broadband networks, and ensure all households are connected by the end of his first term.

With this plan, Bernie has not only responded to the call for better Internet, but is positioning municipally owned Internet as the basis for that Internet, along with open networks that make it easier for micro-ISPs to be built on top of those municipal networks.

This also includes a federal override of states that have passed laws forbidding municipally controlled internet:

Preempt the 19 state laws, largely written and lobbied for by internet service provider monopolies, that limit or bar municipal and publicly-owned broadband.

His plan also targets the existing monopolies and their expansion towards media ownership and concentration:

Use existing antitrust authority to break up internet service provider and cable monopolies.

Bar service providers from also providing content and unwind anticompetitive vertical conglomerates.

Classify broadband providers as common carriers under Title II and reinstate net neutrality regulations.

Work with Congress to codify net neutrality protections into law to prevent a future FCC from repealing them once again.

This is essential given the power that has been concentrated into the hands of Comcast and AT&T.

Striking out against the media monopoly and threatening to break them up is exactly the kind of populist politics we need. Unlike Jeremy Corbyn’s broadband communism, this iteration of the policy is not actually radical. It can be done within existing US antitrust law, and actually save taxpayers money.

Yet the opposition against this policy is powerful, wealthy, and perhaps a bit paranoid.

Our bias here is that we think this is one of the most important policies of our contemporary era. Dealing with monopoly while opening up the Internet is a potential game changer when it comes to the future (or existence) of democracy.

A lot of the subjects we write about in this newsletter depend upon affordable and high quality internet to be possible or relevant. Yet we haven’t had the kind of experimentation or alternatives that could really show what is possible.

Which is why these emerging public policy proposals are genuinely exciting and inspiring.

A cheaper and better Internet is possible. Recognizing that Internet infrastructure should be in the hands of the community is an important first step. Whether this is municipal, state/province, or just neighbourhood, is something we will explore in future issues. However what we can recognize is that the massive corporate providers currently in control are not delivering what we need.

That’s why this debate is important. We need to discuss options. We should explore alternatives.

It will be interesting to see how other candidates respond. Yet it is also not surprising that Bernie’s proposal, much like Corbyn’s has been largely ignored by both the political and general interested news media.

However where Corbyn faces almost certain defeat in the UK general election tomorrow, Bernie is still in the race. The location, focus, and timing of his broadband announcement was in Iowa. If he can make a strong showing in the opening caucus of the race, there’s reason to believe he could fare better than in 2016.

We’ll be watching. Both the candidate. And this policy.

What do you think? Of both the Democratic Presidential Primary, and Bernie’s proposed Internet for all strategy?

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“Future Fibre” is a recurring series in the Metaviews newsletter where we share some of the research, other models, news, and ideas around community based connectivity.

Mark also writes a smart newsletter called #AxisofEasy and is about to publish a fascinating book called “Unassailable” which will be featured in an upcoming newsletter (and would have independent of this sponsorship). I’m thrilled that Mark shares my belief in the potential for micro-ISPs and is sponsoring this series as a result.

Let us not end a newsletter issue without some video based edutainment. Tim Black has a good perspective on this policy announcement, as well as some historical sounds for those kids out there who know not what a modem sounds like.

This post is only for paying subscribers of Metaviews, but it’s ok to forward every once in a while.

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