There is a bill in committee in the Kansas Senate that would basically prohibit any municipality from building a broadband network that would bring retail broadband, voice or cable TV to any customer. Kansas SB 304 is attached. If enacted this would add Kansas to the list of many other states that prohibit any form of municipal competition.
I have to declare some bias in the position that I take on this topic due to the fact that I work for a number of municipalities that have built or are thinking of building fiber networks. But I also work for a lot of commercial firms that build broadband networks, and my real bias is against having large parts of our country without adequate broadband. It is my opinion that every part of the country ought to have broadband and I think whoever is willing to step up and make an investment ought to be allowed to do so.
I can tell you from my experience in working with municipalities that decide to get into the broadband business that they feel like they have no other choice. Many rural parts of America are on the wrong side of the digital divide and it’s getting worse all of the time. The large cities are finally getting good broadband and in most metropolitan areas customers can buy broadband speeds today of 50 – 100 Mbps download.
There are still a lot of people on farms who can still only get dial-up or satellite Internet, both which are no broadband at all. But that is not what defines the digital divide any more. The real digital divide can be found in the thousands of towns and counties where the broadband speeds are 3 – 10 Mbps. Those speeds, which were probably okay five years ago, are no longer adequate. Any City that has 5 Mbps download is already on the losing end of the digital divide. With such Internet speeds they are unable to attract or keep businesses or people in their communities.
Small Cities are scared to death of becoming a place where nobody wants to live. Every community hopes for a future where their kids can find jobs somewhere nearby and stay a part of the community. Places on the wrong side of the digital divide can already see that all of their kids move off to find jobs elsewhere, and it’s getting worse all of the time.
A household with only 5 Mbps download is blocked from using the Internet in the same way as people in a metropolitan area. They can’t really do two things at once on such a connection. This means that one member of the family can’t be taking an on-line college course while another is browsing the Internet or watching a streaming TV show.
And businesses with a 5 Mbps connection are hamstrung, You certainly can’t do much if you share such a small pipe with a lot of computers. While this kind of speed might let a tiny retail business squeak by, companies that have multiple employees can’t function with inadequate broadband.
I can tell you small Cities mostly look at offering broadband out of well-founded fear. They always try to get the incumbent provider to offer better broadband before they even think about it. But the ugly reality is that rural markets served by the large national incumbents get the worst service and have the oldest and worst networks in the country. While the large cable companies and telcos have stepped up their game in metropolitan areas, they have ignored investing in rural areas for decades.
So laws like the Kansas one are nothing more than the large telcos and cable companies kicking sand in the face of small town America. They have already shown them that they are not willing to invest in those areas, but they still want to milk them for revenues and don’t want anybody else to help these areas