With an increasing amount of centralization in the telecommunications and ISP world, coupled with the FCC’s recent ruling against net neutrality, more communities are pushing back. The fact of the matter is that, while it may seem like there is no alternative to ISPs and their growing monopolies, broadband can be more decentralized, even without competition between large players in the sector. So, the question is, what is community-built broadband exactly?
What is community-built broadband?
Community-built broadband is just that. It is an internet service created and maintained by the community it serves. That is typically the local municipality, but not always. There are now over 750 communities that have made their own broadband service. That number is sure to continue to grow, considering how poorly ISPs have been rated for customer service and support in the past.
But they could never work as well or as fast as the big guys, right?
Wrong. A recent report by the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University placed, on average, community-built broadband higher in terms of accessibility, speed, and cost than the larger ISPs. I imagine that this report was nothing short of terrifying for companies like Comcast, Verizon, and AT&T. The more that people learn they could let their local government give them better internet – or even do it themselves – and the more they understand the benefits associated with that, the more likely they will be to call for a community-built option.
The fact is that community-built broadband networks can not only compete with the big companies when it comes to speed and price, but they can actually outpace them, which is why I think they will eventually out-compete them as well.
What does this mean for the future?
I believe that these networks will become even more popular than they are now. While I think they will out-compete larger businesses, I do not think that this is the end for those businesses. Rather, I think those larger ISPs will resort to lobbying and other tactics in an attempt to stay relevant. After all, many of these big ones are publicly traded and are beholden to shareholders more than they are to their customers. Their prices may go down, or they may just begin to operate in areas where communities have not built or cannot build their own broadband infrastructures.
We may be witnessing the shift from publicly traded internet providers to publicly held internet providers – and that’s a really exciting possibility in my mind.