Craig Settles writes about Comcast's attempt to prevent Longmont, Colo., from operating a Wi-Fi network which has defaulted to city ownership: Comcast's sock puppets and trade association have poured at least $150,000 in a campaign to prevent the city of Longmont from operating a Wi-Fi network that a private firm built and was unable to operate. Settles notes that Longmont is also sitting on top of a fiber network that it built, and then was legislated away from being able to use. Sigh.
Flashbacks to the 2005-2006 era, for sure. The argument has been made that Longmont is usurping private enterprise by taking over the network, instead of, as has been proved elsewhere, building demand for broadband and also providing it in places that incumbent carriers are unable to. City-wide Wi-Fi data rates are well below typical cable and most DSL service rates, and wired services tend to be more reliable. Customers who use a free network either would never subscribe to wired fee-based service, or, after tasting the sweet juice of YouTube and others, decides that 5 to 20 Mbps downstream would be even more succulent.
Settles notes that the hoary arguments that cities can't effectively run broadband networks are easily refuted by examples of governments that, by building such networks, rapidly conserve their data communications costs, and then save taxpayer dollars while often expanding service and efficiency. (Settles consults with cities on this topics, but his facts are public.)
The real issue, of course, is whether Comcast and other incumbents can compete against public entities. And the answer is, of course. But those firms have to become a better deal, improve customer service, and charge less--just as they do whenever they are in a truly competitive market with multiple effective broadband providers. Cities have no inherent advantage on networks that are built right, because outside of a few free Wi-Fi networks, cities charge a market price that's typically not cheaper than a competitive broadband price for the same level of service.
What Comcast should have done, were it cleverer about this matter, was offer to take over the Wi-Fi network, build it even better, and offer limited free service to all residents and visitors (maybe an hour a day), unlimited service for the city, and unlimited service for all its subscribers. This would motivate more people to sign up with Comcast or remain customers, and would benefit the city as a whole. $150,000 would have bought a lot of Wi-Fi.