While Cox Communications can make rate decisions in a private conference room several states away, Lafayette conducts its business in an open forum, as it should. While Cox can make repeated and periodic requests for documents under the Public Records Law, it is not subject to a corresponding obligation – a “show me your plans, but don’t dare ask to see mine” mentality. Louisiana law limits the ability of a governmental enterprise to advertise, but nothing prevents the incumbent providers from spending millions of dollars in advertising campaigns. An important focal point of the legal challenges involved the right or ability of Lafayette to pledge assets of the utilities system as security for the bonds, something that the private corporations do all of the time without the slightest scrutiny. To be sure, the “playing field is not level,” but it is the government which is disadvantaged, not the private companies.
Taking Advantage of Chairman Genachowski's Gigabit Challenge
On Friday, I wrote a harsh, quick response to FCC Chairman's Genachowski's so-called gigabit challenge announced in a guest column on Forbes.
Since then, I have learned more about the 1 Gbps Challenge and I have to reiterate my frustration with it. We need the Chairman to reduce barriers to community-owned networks, not just recognize their successes. I'm not the only one reacting this way - Karl Bode has a thoughtful response as well.
Let me start by giving some credit: Thank you for recognizing that the cable and DSL companies are failing to deliver the networks communities need. This announcement should be used to pressure the existing providers to invest in their networks. It is another important piece of evidence that communities having to choose only between cable networks and a slower DSL option are being left behind.
But we need to also recognize that pressuring the existing providers to do better is not a solution in itself. Our slow, overpriced networks are the symptom of a problem, not the problem itself. The problem is that the massive cable and DSL companies are unaccountable to most of the communities they serve. Begging for more investment is better than doing nothing, but solves few problems.
I have a challenge for the FCC Chairman: Use your power to make it less of a challenge for communities to build the networks they need. For too long, you have sat silently by as massive telecommunications firms made it all but impossible for smaller entities - public and private - to build competing networks. When the FCC Chairman finally gets around to supporting communities with definitive action to reduce the many unnecessary industry-created barriers to competition, that will actually be praise-worthy.
Communities are smart to find ways of building their own networks, whether by owning and operating or finding partners to help. Nearly all the communities in the U.S. that have gigabit (and symmetrical at that!) connectivity today are served by networks owned by the community. This includes Chattanooga, Morristown, and Bristol in Tennessee; Lafayette in Louisiana; Bristol, Virginia; Burlington, Vermont; and the communities in Utah served by UTOPIA. Also, Chelan Public Utility District offers up to 1 Gbps connections in many communities in Washington State.
This is why we have to remove unnecessary barriers to public investment in their own networks and encourage communities to take responsibility for their own future. As Harold DePriest asked when announcing that Chattanooga would build its own FTTH network, "The issue is, does our community control our own fate, or does someone else control it?"