Lompoc, Calif., may have three options for broadband, accidentally: The city is at the center of this long and fair look at why municipal wireless is becoming a widespread phenomenon, and the reporter covers the warts and fair skin equally. But there's a gem in this article, because it explains how any smaller town could get its service upgraded by incumbents at no expense.
First, the mayor or city manager along with the council announces a surprise plan to offer subsidized or free wireless throughout the town with a private contractor handling cost and risk.
Second, they fight back attacks by the incumbents to scotch the plan in the media or through special elections.
Third, the incumbents commit upgrade resources to serve the town.
Fourth, the town decides not to build, and enjoys its 21st-century broadband upgrades.
Now, Lompoc can't be accused of this strategy, but the incumbents should have egg on their face when they describe the expensive upgrades to cable and DSL installed in the city--only after the city's plan to put in wireless first and fiber later was well underway. The head of the town's wireless project said Comcast promised service upgrades for 10 years--probably from analog to digital cable for starters--and that the work to upgrade the network (which was finished this year) was done only in response to Lompoc's plans. Likewise, Verizon admitted in this article that Lompoc was low on its list for improving DSL service and performance.
This is interesting when you contrast it with the complaint of incumbents that those who "regulate" them will compete against them. Regulation is a funny animal. Most telecom regulation is at a national level; franchise regulation is local. The "regulation" they're talking about is not whether a company has the right to provide service, but rather the rules and fees by which a company can use city facilities, such as light poles, conduits, and so forth.
This form of regulation is really another aspect of a city's right to self-determination. It can be used as a blunt instrument. In fact, Philadelphia reportedly prevented the entrance of a competitive cable company for years, restricting customer choice and favoring an incumbent franchise holder. But should the converse be true--should towns and cities be required to offer free or regulated (that word again) access on a non-discriminatory basis to everyone?
We've seen that: that's the trenching regulation. If you lived in, say, Palo Alto, Calif., during the dotcom boom, you have already seen trucks open up your street, put in cable, close it up, and then another set of trucks come in the next week.
It may be that local bodies "regulate" the incumbent cable and telecom providers, but they apparently have no leverage over them, otherwise Lompoc would have no reason (and no citizen support) for their fiber and wireless buildout.