The quiet good news of the 2020 elections: Municipal broadband is expanding

The quiet good news of the 2020 elections: Municipal broadband is expanding

Here’s one more thing to celebrate from November’s election, something that got kind of lost in the never-ending saga of Trump’s stupid and dangerous challenges. Yes, he lost many many times and that’s fantastic. But so is this: Two more major cities gave the finger to big telecom and embraced community broadband.

The voters in Chicago and Denver overwhelmingly voted for community broadband in a referendum in Chicago that directs the city to “ensure that all the city’s community areas have access to broadband Internet.” It’s a nonbinding resolution, but it gives the city the authority to consider broadband as a utility, potentially allowing for community-run networks. The voters in Denver—83.5% of them—declared the city should be exempt from a 2005 law passed by Colorado that restricts towns and cities from building their own networks. That ALEC-inspired law had a loophole in the case of Colorado, one that lets cities and towns opt out of those restricts if the residents demand it by vote. There are now 140 communities in Colorado that have spurned the law and championed citizen-built broadband.

Christopher Mitchell, director of community broadband networks for the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, told Vice that these votes are instructive. “I think the margin in Chicago and Denver is remarkable,” Mitchell said. “When we work with communities where half the residents have a cable monopoly and the other half don’t have any broadband, the demand for something better is strong among both populations.” Mitchell’s group says that 83 million Americans live in an area subject to a broadband monopoly, with Comcast being the usual culprit. That’s on top of the estimated 42 million who have no broadband access at all and the tens of millions who only have two choices, where again Comcast dominates. “For years, we have said this is a major concern for voters but local leaders remain too intimidated by the big monopoly cable and telephone companies to act on it,” Mitchell said. “Maybe now we will see it taken more seriously.”

This could be the tipping point, though in 22 states it will require repealing those ALEC-inspired municipal broadband bans. It can happen—two years ago 25 states had the bans. According to a Broadband Now study, consumers in states without those bans “against municipal broadband have, on average, 10% greater access to low-price broadband (which we classify as any standalone internet plan $60 per month or less).”

Arkansas and Connecticut have lifted restrictions on municipal broadband, and Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Texas, and Washington State have taken recent legislative action that’s municipal broadband-friendly. Breaking big telecom’s very expensive stranglehold on the country is possible, and a smart thing to start getting on local ballots.

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