Public broadband works; why not here?


There's a fascinating new map that the Institute for Local Self Reliance has put together that shows how 342 communities around the United States are now offering publicly owned, cheap, reliable broadband and cable service to local residents and businesses. Check it out here. Then check out why the fastest networks in the nation are built by local governments:

"It may surprise people that these cities in Virginia, Tennessee, and Louisiana have faster and lower cost access to the Internet than anyone in San Francisco, Seattle, or any other major city,” says Christopher Mitchell, Director of ILSR’s Telecommunications as Commons Initiative. “These publicly owned networks have each created hundreds of jobs and saved millions of dollars.”

Then sit back and ask yourself why you're paying so much money every month for the rotten service you get from Comcast and AT&T. Ask your friends, ask around work; is anyone really happy with their broadband service? Do you think you're getting a good deal for the price?

When I saw the map I called Mitchell, and he told me that every one of the cities and towns on his map has been successful with public ownership. "Within five years, everyone is either making money for the general fund or breaking even and offering really low rates," he said. "The real benefit is lower prices, which leaves residents with more money in their pockets, which tends to get spent in their communities where it helps local business."

Most of the cities that have muni broadband (and cable TV!) also have municipal electric power systems, which makes the whole thing easier. But Santa Monica did it bit by bit, installing fiber every time one of the streets was torn up for plumbing, sewers, etc. and gradually building out a network that so far only connects businesses but can be expanded as the money comes in. San Francisco streets are torn up all the time, and will be torn up regularly as water and sewer lines are replaced. The biggest expense of laying cable is cutting open and repaving streets; the cable itself is fairly cheap.

In some states, the big private telecoms have pushed through state legislation banning muni broadband -- but not in California. San Francisco has every legal right to get into this business.

So why aren't we doing it already? "What's missing," Mitchell said, "is the political will to really piss off Comcast and AT&T."

I was just looking at the map when I got an email alerting me to this lovely discussion between Mayor Ed Lee and the head of PG&E, talking about the private utility's plans to invest $1.2 billion in local infrastructure (more on that in a future blog post). That's going to involve a lot of digging up streets. So what does Mayor Lee say? Maybe we could allow PRIVATE companies to lay fiber at the same time.

I want to throw up.




The less the government does, the more likely it can do a good, or at least less inadequate, job of. If it ain't broke, don't break it.

And public sector jobs are more expensive in terms of pay and benefits, so it is inconceivable to me that some city suits could do a better job than telecom professionals.

Get Muni working right before you ask me whether the city should take on other business lines. Focus on the basics.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

We tried to get this and progressives killed it.

Posted by Greg_the_diKC on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 2:43 pm

If you are going to bitch about free internet access, go see Chris Daly at his bar and bring it ip with him....

Posted by matlock on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 8:40 pm

Gavin Newsom tried to get a corporate-sponsored wifi deal that would NOT have been publicly owned or operated and was a bad deal for the city. We've never talked seriously as a city about municipal ownership of broadband. As for Guest above, I urge you to check out every other city that has public power or broadband; the "city suits" do a fine job at a lower price. PG&E union jobs are comparable in pay to city jobs, but no city official makes near the type of salary top PG&E execs get. Same for Comcast.

Posted by tim on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 2:56 pm

1970's. Did you not even know that?

Why would I want the same people running Muni and (not) fixing our streets in control of my internet?

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 3:28 pm

than the private utility blowing up our neighborhoods and having power outages every time it rains.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 10:34 pm

Exaggerate much?

SF voters have ALWAYS rejected public power. We just don't care about it, so get over it. Even bruce has given up on it after it lost at election for the 5th time.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 7:04 am

San Bruno.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 10:31 am

No SF neighborhoods have been "blown up" by PG&E.

If the city ran power, I suspect that would not be true.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 10:49 am

In SF, NO.

In other cities there is an independent press, in SF the independent press prides itself in being servile.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 11:02 pm

Naw. Gotta be a case of him not making himself clear; or a well-meaning imp.

Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 10:15 am

Tim's right. There was a private sector financed deal for free city wide wifi in 2007. The Progressives (mostly Peskin and Ammiano) didn't like it and helped to kill it.

In its place the Progressives came up with....


So that's why we don't have anything now. Because Progressives never create anything. They only prevent other people from getting something done.

Posted by Troll on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 4:48 pm

and every cafe, library, transit location has it too.

It's done and dusted. Move on. Focus on the stuff the city has to do i.e. public safety, fixing roads, muni etc.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 5:14 pm

It is important to note that the private sector will not solve this problem by itself. The market power of Comcast and AT&T is too great for a new small firm to win by itself.

In some areas, upstart firms are thriving - is doing a great job where it operates. But it is extremely unlikely that it will be able to scale rapidly enough (particularly under the present regulatory system) to solve the problems that the City could solve by making targeted investment.

Hell, the City could be installing fiber that it then makes available to providers like Sonic in an effort to expedite buildout. There are many potential models but first the City needs the political will.

And when the City does act, it needs to ensure it has some level of power in the network - these networks will be needed for years and business models change over time.

Posted by Christopher Mitchell on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 3:08 pm

My private internet works way better than public Muni.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 5:13 pm

I loves me my broadbrand wireless. $250 for set up, $105 per quarter for 65mbps ~ 5KBPS.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 3:21 pm

Hi, I'm Marcos, and I lie to suit my agenda.

Posted by Greg_the_diKC on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 10:11 am

Here's what I just got during mid morning on a business day:

Posted by marcos on Mar. 04, 2013 @ 10:37 am

This city is rapidly becoming less and less great.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 4:13 pm

Agreed, this is because one side is united and fighting to kill what made this city great and the other side is divided and will sell their allies out for a song, on a whim.

Posted by marcos on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 4:33 pm

slef-sustaining economically. It's becoming kore great for anyone who wants to run a business, or for tourists, and for families, and so on.

SF is migrating from a place for losers to a place for winners. Not surprisingly, the losers are whining.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 5:09 pm

neither 'progressives' or the other folks have much to offer. they are all about running for higher office, collecting donations for their campaigns, and pushing "feel good do nothing" ballot measures and resolutions to corral their voters.

overall, for a city that's so smug and full of itself about how great it is, it's amazing how stupid its voters are who keep eating this bullshit, and how stupid its "journalists" are for pushing it without question

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

For instance, they always voted against public power because they didn't want their electric supply to be as unreliable as Muni.

Posted by Guest on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 6:09 pm

The call center people would be making $125,000 per year while working 2-3 days a week. If you want broadband that is as reliable as MUNI - consider this option.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 10:00 pm

I can only wish that PG&E was as reliable as MUNI.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 10:36 pm

once a year.

The bus I used to ride everyday missed runs everyday.

Posted by matlock on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 10:52 pm

Seems my block gets outages every time it rains. MUNI generally runs pretty well, all things considered.

Posted by Greg on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 11:14 pm

I cannot recall ever having an power outage.

Muni sucks, not least because it is full of losers like you, and is run by losers like you.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 7:05 am

Under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, comments are the sole responsibility of the individual commenters. SFBG reserves the right to delete any comments that include hate speech, libel, plagiarism, threats, personal attacks or off-topic assertions, and inappropriate language in order to protect the integrity of the site and its users. We do not edit comments for content.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 8:10 am

to edit.

Got any more self-contradictions?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 8:22 am

to this comment as support for its reluctant advocacy for a reading comprehension test as a requirement to post comments onto this website.

Note how this functionally illiterate commenter misquoted the SFBG comment policy, which states that that the SFBG "do(es) not edit comments for content." And that "SFBG reserves the right to delete any comments..."

For reasons know only to the commenter, he misquoted the SFBG comment policy. Perhaps he is too stupid to use the copy and paste functions of his web browser.

Down with stupidity!!!

Power to the thoughtful!!!

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 8:45 am

"editting for content".

Went right over your head.

Anyway, who cares, you're not in charge of SFBG moderation and so, if you don't like the content here, find another site mroe suitable for you.

I'm happy with the SFBG moderation policy.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 8:49 am

for the knife and basket.

Here's wishing you continuing bliss.

Posted by lillipublicans on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 9:35 am

but otherwise draws a fairly liberal line, as it should. Greg's anti-Asian rants, for instance, are allowed to stay even though many find them to be vile.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 10:42 am

You mean the nonexistant anti-Asian rants that no one can actually find?

On the other hand, the SFBG will totally allow libel like your post to stay.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 9:22 pm

You are CLEARLY doing so because of hatred towards Asians Greg.

With acceptance comes forgiveness. Admit your faults! Speak clearly - lay out the facts!!

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 02, 2013 @ 3:23 am

that with the above comment Lucretia Snapples ties anon as the most stupid commenter on any San Francisco website.

Down with stupidity!!!

Power to the thoughtful!!!

Posted by San Francisco Anti-Stupidity Campaign on Mar. 02, 2013 @ 7:10 am

Ed Reiskin makes just south of $300K pa.

How much do you make?

Who's the loser?

Posted by marcos on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 8:48 am

We are all losers for not going into these "I know better than you" fields .

Posted by matlock on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 4:44 pm

Campos brought together MonkeyBrains, the head of DPW, and the City CIO. By the end of the meeting, we walked out feeling little love -- and we were told we couldn't mircotrench in the city streets. Right now, we have several thousand people in San Francisco using our wireless network and we are ready to invest in laying fiber infrastructure. Our next step is to step around the city's reluctance to give us a franchise agreement (ala the two cable companies in town) and get a state wide status as a CLEC. Really, we don't want to figure out the paperwork as we want to only provide service to the lovely people of San Francisco. Why can't we have a ballot measure to allow local business more access to the right of way?

Right now, there is no people's mandate. Just thoughts of throwing up.

Let's get policy in place to allow microtrenching in sidewalks and along curb cuts.

How about a ballot measure opening up SFPUC land to be rented to WISPs at a rate lower than cell phone tower rates (they are different businesses) -- via phone, we were quoted a cell carrier rate by the real estate department of the SFPUC, we decided it was in our budget, and they did have not given us a formal agreement.

Let's get creative -- how about allowing WISPs space on schools, libraries, and firehouses?

Speaking as the owner of a local private company with zero political pull, I say let's get something in place that gives more access to the public right of way if the city doesn't want to do Fiber To The Home.

Let us build it, and I'll give it to the city in 10 years. Vote MonkeyBrains!


Posted by Rudy on Feb. 28, 2013 @ 11:15 pm

You'd think if the unaccountable staff of Citizenville is encouraging AT&T to block sidewalks with bulky digital boxes that they could at least allow microtrenching of fiber by a more nimble, locally based competitor.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 9:10 am

Timmy asks "Why?"

Timmy do some "in depth" reporting and follow the money and get your answer. Then
publish the specifics of who (NAMES!) gets what amount of $$ from who (NAMES/corporations).

Posted by Guest on Mar. 01, 2013 @ 10:27 am