Say you’re mayor of a small city. Your city is small enough and far enough away from other cities that the big cable companies don’t want to spend what it would cost to run wires through your town, because the amount they will make in return isn’t worth it. That’s reasonable, from a business perspective. So you and the residents of your city get together and come up with a plan to make a public broadband utility instead. Makes sense, right? You’d happily pay someone else to do it for you, but since they don’t want to take your money you’ll do it yourself. Only — surprise! In come those self-same cable companies to block you from doing that, too, and they get your state’s legislature and governor to pass a law against you for good measure, so you can never try again.
That’s the story of municipal broadband in many parts of the country. Twenty states have some kind of law in place that either prohibits or restricts public broadband utilities from operating or expanding.
In a lengthy feature, the Center for Public Integrity reports on just how heavily involved companies like Comcast and AT&T are in stifling the expansion of municipal broadband. The telecom and cable companies wield outsized power in state-level governments, the report finds, and can make things very difficult for anyone who stands against them.