updated 10:11 am EDT, Wed June 4, 2014
Verizon, Comcast anti-compete agreements, other legislation stymie process
Many US cities have large fiberoptic networking installations, paid for by taxpayer dollars, that are "dark," unknown, or unusable -- primarily due to telecom company lobbyists and threats to localities. At least 20 states have enacted laws or other legal barriers to prevent community access to these networks, and even more have signed non-compete agreements with Internet providers.
Washington DC and surrounding communities have access to the country's first 100Gbps fiberoptic network, but it is only accessible to non-profits and the government. Comcast threatened to cut off cable access to the metropolis if the higher-speed network was opened to the public, and following the re-negotiation that saw many Internet and cable TV bills jump by 30 percent nearly overnight, Comcast agreed to provide access to the network for the "exclusive use" of the government. The agreement mandated that the city not perform "any activities or outcomes that would result in business competition between the District and Comcast" despite the network being heavily subsidized by tax dollars. A similar agreement with Verizon continues the block to the network to this day.
Vice notes that in 2009, a bill was introduced in North Carolina which lawmakers decided would "create extraordinary financial accounting and administrative burdens on municipal broadband providers that would render their existence fiscally difficult, if not impossible." The bill heavily favored extant networks in its attempt to level the playing field between telecommunication companies and municipalities trying to build fiber networks, and its goal was very thinly veiled during the debate and approval process.
San Francisco, home to technology giants, also has a fiberoptic network not available to its citizens. It is trying to build a business plan to allow local businesses to resell the fiber, but in order to break even on the plan, fiber access would have to be offered at $200 a month, just to meet costs.
Municipal fiber networks are the key to improving average US connection speeds. The FCC is about to issue a call for public remarks increasing what it calls broadband, which will drop the number of citizens technically considered served by the telecommunications industry. The prevalent non-compete agreements blocking citizen access to these networks all over the country are harmful to wide broadband deployment, and are indicative of a larger problem with the regulatory climate favoring telecommunications company interests over that of the people of the United States.
Fiberoptic network locations in US