Broadband in America: Is it time to think small?

More than once I have said that broadband providers need to stop being content providers and become dumb pipe providers. The moment that you mix the two together you automatically have a conflict of interest where, in the long run, the consumer loses.

The Internet is provider agnostic, as it should be, but when companies like Comcast, TimeWarner, AT&T Uverse, or any of the other big players start having a say over what will go over their pipes and at what speeds the two services are diametrically opposed.

As frustrating to the consumer as this can be there is another answer for broadband service and it is one that is really starting to spread.

The answer: your hometown broadband provider.

While there have been efforts in the past of the creation of local broadband services it has faced incredibly stiff, and well lobbied, opposition from the big incumbents in the business. They have even gone to the courts to try and protect their lock on the broadband landscape. Then if the courts don’t play nice you act like TimeWarner and lobby state legislatures like they did in North Carolina.

Interestingly enough though this time around TimeWarner lost and little ol’ Wilson N.C. can continue building out its own broadband service that is 10 times faster than TimeWarner’s own top tier service of 10Mbps. In a move to add insult onto injury Wilson N.C. basic service of 10Mbps is cheaper than anything TimeWarner offers.

From Craig Settles at GigaOM we hear about the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee, and their citywide service of 150 Mbps

Chattanooga, Tenn. is rolling out a citywide network that delivers 150 Mbps to customers. Today. Not five or ten years down the road. “Our employees designed the network,” said Lacie Newton, spokesperson for EPB, Chattanooga’s public utility. “Along with contracted employees from private companies they are building and operating the network. No doubt there are others capable of providing advanced communication services. But unless we did it ourselves, we didn’t believe that others would bring these type services to every home and business in our community.”

Then we have Santa Monica, who with no money in the budget but with cannibalized saving from updating old technology, where they upgraded their fiber system, sold local businesses broadband services the big competitors couldn’t (or wouldn’t) match, and are now expanding with the help of a $2.5 million capital fund they built up.

Right now the FCC is is trying to promote its vision of 100Mbps service to 100 million homes by 2020 the problem is that they are trying to do it either by government intervention or by twisting the arm of the broadband incumbents. As we have seen in the past this doesn’t work as companies like Comcast or TimeWarner have no qualms of throwing massive amounts of money at the problem and in most cases come out on top.

Given that there are already a large number of communities that are currently, or in the planning stages of running their own broadband services it would make much better sense for the FCC to throw its weight behind them. After all taking on the big company incumbents who will fight them all the way is not an inexpensive proposition.

More importantly though is the support, both in money and time, that we could give our local providers since it is in both our interests to have access to better service at a reasonable price. So since we aren’t, and will likely never get it from the big boys maybe its time to switch tactics and take the fight to them.