My wife shared this on Facebook last week and I meant to comment on it then but never got around to it. Then yesterday Dan shared the same article on Flutterby and I started to comment on it there but this all ties in together with a connected concern I have.
Business Insider has an article titled “City In Tennessee Has The Big Cable Companies Terrified” that talks about how my home town of Chattanooga has invested in Internet infrastructure without the help of the big name ISPs. I think this article perfectly illustrates why I can’t be a libertarian purist.
Around twenty years ago Chattanooga’s Electric Power Board (EPB), an electric utility owned by the City of Chattanooga, looked at the current state of they way they read their power meters and looked at the future of electrical power meters and saw that they needed to invest heavily in upgrading their power grid in ways that would give them a more efficient method of collecting power data and controlling their grid.
There were a couple of technologies coming online at that time that created the perfect environment for forward thinking individuals at the EPB to decide that connecting their power meters back to the business office with fiber optics was the perfect technology to use to create their SmartGrid network. Someone also had the wherewithal to recognize that pulling a dozen fiber to each meter was no more expensive than pulling two and that someone might one day want to use that extra fiber to connect to the Internet or the phone network.
It’s a good thing they did too, because even though they faced a lot of pushback from people who felt that the City of Chattanooga should not be using tax dollars to compete with private companies like Comcast or BellSouth (now AT&T) fast Internet would have been a long, long way off in Chattanooga without this competition that EPB offered.
Comcast put off plans to outfit southeastern Tennessee with high-speed internet, essentially forcing the city to look for internet solutions elsewhere, Motherboard reports. This is actually a trend. Though Chattanooga’s internet is notable for its blinding speed, many small communities around the country are similarly taking on high-speed internet without the help of big-name ISPs.
via Chattanooga Tennessee Big Internet Companies Terrified – Business Insider.
Why should Comcast invest in offering fast Internet if there was no competition? Fast Internet competes with television programming delivery and opens up options to cable subscribers that could entice them to abandon expensive cable TV in favor of rabbit ears and streaming video from Netflix and Hulu and others.
I could feel for the Cable companies on this if it wasn’t for the fact that we now live in a time that fast Internet is essential to compete in the business world and withholding affordable fast Internet options from home users puts the self-employed and independent contractors at a huge competitive disadvantage. Fast Internet is essential for the economic prosperity of a community.
Competition is good for the consumer but not so much for a single business entity like Comcast or AT&T. Most businesses have to adapt to competition from new technologies and that competition is not only good for consumer but also for an industry overall. Broadcast TV faced new competition from the cable companies and cable networks much like the cable companies and cable networks are facing from Internet TV. However, broadcast TV adapted and found ways to compete with the cable networks.
Around ten years ago the cable company lobbies got laws passed in numerous states preventing municipalities from selling services that rely on publicly owned infrastructures. The reasoning behind these laws had some merit but they also put communities at the whim of private companies for receiving necessary services that weren’t being delivered in a timely manner from private entities.
Around twenty states still have such laws on their books. The FCC has begun helping communities not receiving the services they need to get around these laws. Earlier this month, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) proposed an amendment that would make the FCC’s move illegal.
This is where I see pure libertarianism fail. If a community wants a service that private enterprise will not supply that community with it must be an option for that community to supply that service to itself. Using government intervention to prevent the community from receiving the service and to enhance the profits of the private company is a use of force against the community that libertarian philosophy rejects as much or more so as taxpayer dollars being used to compete against private enterprises.
It is equally troubling that the cable companies are attempting to use government to reduce retransmission fees being paid from cable companies to local broadcast TV companies. What cable companies are actually wanting is to be able to buy programming directly from the broadcast networks in order to cut the local broadcasters out of the local advertising revenue.
A couple of months ago I got tired of paying well over $100 a month for TV programming that I mostly didn’t like. I attached a pair of rabbit ears to the TV in my bedroom and discovered that I was getting 80% of what I was watching for free. I quickly decided the other 20% was not worth the price it would take to receive it and cut out my cable TV service while keeping my broadband connection with my cable company, Charter Cable.
Charter will sell you Internet alone at a price that’s less than Internet/TV service. I understand Comcast won’t.
Broadcast TV is an essential community service in my opinion. It is how local news is quickly disseminated to the community, it is how we are kept aware of local issues and how government is addressing those issues. If the cable companies succeed in getting the retransmission rates dropped then the revenue used to produce those local news shows will dry up. This is something we can not allow to happen.