The Next Battle For The Internet May Have Already Begun

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The Federal Communications Commission’s repeal of Net Neutrality has turned out to be a controversial and widely criticized legislative decision. The FCC and its chairman, Ajit Pai, have been facing continuous and largely bipartisan criticism from the public and the media alike.

On January 8, the Senate bill to reverse the Net Neutrality repeal gained its 30th co-sponsor, The Hill reported, ensuring a floor vote. A glimmer of hope for Net Neutrality advocates, The Congressional Review Act — which allows Congress to review and potentially overrule federal regulations issued by government agencies — will still have to reach President Trump’s desk, assuming majority of the Senate votes to reverse the repeal.

In short, the chances of reversing the repeal seem to be slim to none. This has forced Net Neutrality advocates and American citizens to shift their attention to municipal broadband, provided fully or partially by local governments. Amidst repeal backlash, the concept of municipal broadband seems to be getting more and more attention.

“Some Cities Plan to Create Their Own Net Neutrality,” a January 15 TruthDig article headline read, amidst growing momentum. The Denver Post reported on dozens of Colorado cities and counties voting to overturn laws that limited local communities from building a broadband.

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In January 2018, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society published a study concluding that municipal broadband was a better deal for consumers. Authored by David Talbot, Kira Hessekiel and Danielle Kehl, the study focused on comparing community-owned fiber-to-the-home networks with private ISPs.

“Community-owned FTTH providers’ pricing is generally clear and unchanging, private providers almost always offer initial ‘teaser’ prices and then raise the monthly price sharply,” the researchers wrote.

The opposition

Not everyone considers municipal broadband to be the solution. The municipal broadband “movement” seems to have already found its opposition.

FierceCable, a daily business and technology briefing for cable service providers, was criticized by Forbes columnist Rosyln Layton. “Tech media love to be hard-hitting except when it comes to muni broadband,” Layton wrote, claiming tech media promotes municipal broadband with little to no critique, also criticizing the Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society’s study for what she calls “factual errors.”

This prompted FierceCable editor Daniel Frankel to respond to the accusations.

“Rosyln Layton is an American academic, living in Denmark, serving as a visiting fellow at the Center for Internet, Communications and Technology Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. The Washington Post once declared the AEI as the Beltway’s ‘dominant conservative think tank.’ In 2014, the American Enterprise Institute was accused of working with Comcast to ‘astroturf’ the net neutrality issue. At the time, fellows at the Institute were accused of printing and posting op-eds all throughout the media in support of killing net neutrality,” Frankel wrote.

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Layton’s bio is available on Forbes and it reads “I am a Visiting Fellow at the Center for Internet, Communications and Technology Policy at the American Enterprise Institute.”

In July 2014, Esquire‘s Ben Collins wrote “By its own admission, Comcast is working with think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute. Fellows at the Institute are printing op-eds all throughout the media in support of killing Net neutrality–without disclosing the think tank’s ties to Comcast.”

The American Enterprise institute is not the only think tank to oppose municipal broadband.

On December 11 2017, FierceTelecom released a detailed report claiming another Comcast-backed think tank, Priorities First Fort Collins, had spent $1 million to fight Colorado town’s municipal broadband effort.

The next battle for the internet may have already begun.