The vast majority of Americans have no choice when it comes to home internet. By and large, a handful of cable companies have the nation divided up into a series of regional monopolies, giving the illusion of competition but no actual incentive to lower prices or offer good customer service. Realizing this, local municipalities have increasingly warmed to the idea of local, publicly-owned internet providers as an alternative to big telecom companies.
Where municipal internet has taken off, it’s overwhelmingly been loved by residents — which, of course, means that telecoms companies have to nip this potential threat in the bud. A truly incredible example of how telecoms companies use state-level politics to kill off the threat happened recently in Wyoming, where telecom lobbyists took a bill that would have given state grants to local communities to get high-speed internet, and used it instead to block public broadband.
Stop the Cap learned about the case from a Facebook post by Cheyenne Mayor Mario Orr, who noted that the state legislative committee tried to switch out the bill without any warning. The original bill would have instituted a state grant program to municipalities in order to provide high-speed internet to communities without access. The substitute bill, which Orr said was switched out in secret, would block funding for any community to establish their own internet network anywhere that CenturyLink or Charter already provided service. The substitute bill would also give the telecom industry a say in how the funds are granted.
“I shouldn’t have been surprised to learn industry completely re-wrote proposed broadband legislation to their favour as a “substitute bill” in legislative committee today, Orr wrote on Facebook. “The substitute bill is substantially different than the original bill. And it wasn’t posted on-line or anywhere for anyone except insiders to have access to. CenturyLink and Spectrum are bullies. It’s wrong, and they are hurting Cheyenne and other WY communities from gaining affordable access.”
The telecoms industry has had great success spending lobbying money on local and state legislature to prop up their regional monopolies, since bills are often passed with little attention. Companies have gone as far as spending $200,000 on an ad campaign to prevent local government from even exploring the idea of a public internet company. That kind of money can completely turn the tide in local politics, but it’s small change for an industry protecting billions in profits.