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In the wake of the new rules issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to prevent digital discrimination, digital equity advocates from California to Cleveland are leveraging the new federal rules to spur local action.
In Los Angeles, city leaders have passed an ordinance to combat what advocates say are discriminatory investment and business practices that leave historically marginalized communities without access to affordable high-quality Internet. Similar efforts to mobilize communities and local officials are underway in Oakland and Cleveland.
In November 2023, the FCC codified rules to prevent digital discrimination, outlining a complaint process whereby members of the public can offer evidence of digital discrimination being committed by Internet service providers (ISPs). Though the FCC order does not outline local policy solutions, nor does it empower localities to carry out enforcement of the federal rules, it has the potential to open up conversations between local advocates and elected officials about new ordinances, stronger enforcement of existing ones, or public investment to facilitate competition and the building of better broadband networks.
Los Angeles First City in Nation To Officially Define Digital Discrimination At Local Level
The local organizing work behind the proposed ordinance in LA dates back to 2022 when digital equity advocates began to document inequitable broadband access across the county.
For this week's Community Broadband Bits podcast, we are trying a discussion/debate format between myself, Christopher Mitchell, and Ryan Radia, Associate Director of Technology Studies at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. We have debated previously and prefer a style of seeking to flesh out the argument rather than merely trying to win it. We start by discussing the role of incumbents in limiting competition and what might be done about it.
Next we move to bandwidth caps. On both of those points, we have pretty significant disagreement. We finish by discussing the role of conduit and poles, where we have some agreement. If you like this show, please do let us know and we'll try to have more in this style.
We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.
Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index. See other podcasts from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance here.
Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music, licensed using Creative Commons. The song is "Warm Duck Shuffle."
Salisbury, North Carolina's Fibrant, now holds the distinction of offering the fastest Internet access in the country. The municipal network is making 10 Gbps symmetrical connectivity available for residents and businesses.
Fibrant's first 10 Gbps customer is Catawba College, a local school that will use the ultra-fast connections for its new Digital Media Creation and Collaboration labs. In a press release Joanna Jasper, Catawba CIO stated:
"By moving to Fibrant's 10 Gbps speeds, the College is in a better position to differentiate itself. We can bring world-class broadband services to our campus community to support the next generation of educational applications."
"The future is all about rich immersive digital media and being able to communicate and collaborate with others in real-time regardless of where people are in time and space."
The city of Salisbury hopes this new standard will set it apart from other North Carolina communities and entice more economic development. From a BizJournals article:
“It helps us differentiate ourselves” among cities and states seeking technology companies, [says Kent Winrich, Director of Broadband and Infrastructure Services]. “It will attract international companies. It’s not sniping businesses from Charlotte.”
Winrich sees Salisbury attracting technology companies that need the bandwidth for real-time connections to clients and suppliers — software developers and data centers, for example.
The network, which already offers gigabit connectivity to businesses and residents for around $100 per month, has attracted several businesses to a community that once struggled with job loss. Mayor Paul Woodson told WFAE that the investment in Fibrant grew out of necessity:
ILSR is excited to announce a new short video examining an impressive municipal broadband network, Glasgow Kentucky. Glasgow was the first municipal broadband network and indeed, seems to have been the first citywide broadband system in the United States.
We partnered with the Media Working Group to produce this short documentary and we have the material to do much more, thanks to the hard work of Fred Johnson at MWG and the cooperation of many in Glasgow, particularly Billy Ray.
People who only recently became aware of the idea of community owned networks may not be familiar with Billy Ray, but it was he and Jim Baller throughout the 90's and early 2000's that paved the way for all the investment and excitement we see today.
I'm excited to be helping to tell part of this story and look forward to being able to tell more of it.
City administrator Jeff O'Neill said that the city has no intention of abandoning FiberNet's 1,700 customers, including about 130 businesses. "This system isn't going anywhere," he said. "We're not going out of business." Despite the problems, he said the city has one of the fastest Internet systems in the country that has driven down prices and improved services by providing competition.The article also notes that prior to the City-owned network, the telephone company (TDS) provided very poor DSL service that was harming area businesses with slow and very unreliabile phone and broadband services. Without FiberNet Monticello, we don't know how many businesses would have been forced to relocate to be competitive in the digital economy. We decided to dig a little deeper to get a sense of what Monticello has received for its investment and difficulty. We previously examined the prices charged by Charter cable in town and found that households taking that deal were saving $1000/year. We also noted that Charter was almost certainly engaging in predatory pricing. After talking with other networks, we would guess that Charter is losing between $30 and $50 (conservatively) per subscriber per month.
In the process of knitting a baby blanket, a whole ball of yarn became tangled into this mess. . . .
. . . reminding me of the time, in the early eighties, when I was the second cable administrator appointed in the U.S., and found myself peering into a hole in the street filled with a similar looking mess—only made of copper wires, instead of yarn.