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ACLU report proves community broadband networks are capable of challenging the Telecom monopoly

How consumers can beat net neutrality's repeal.

A new ACLU report proves community broadband networks can challenge the Telecom monopoly and beat net neutrality's repeal. (CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
A new ACLU report proves community broadband networks can challenge the Telecom monopoly and beat net neutrality's repeal. (CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has seen serious pushback since it voted to repeal net neutrality last December.

At least 27 U.S. states are now considering their own replacement net neutrality legislation, and 21 attorneys general have filed suit against the FCC for repealing the Obama-era regulations, which prohibited Internet Service Providers (ISPs) from slowing down or blocking certain websites they don’t like.

Now, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is releasing new guidelines highlighting an additional step activists can take to prevent corporations like Comcast, Verizon and AT&T from monopolizing the internet: building their own broadband networks.

“Nothing the FCC has done prevents a city, county, or town from directing its own, municipally run service to honor strong network neutrality,” the report, released Thursday, read. “If commercial providers are determined to make money by violating the privacy and speech rights of their users…then states, cities, towns and counties should take matters into their own hands by creating publicly owned services that do honor those values and can help ensure an open internet.”

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The report highlighted how America lagged behind on internet speeds, with an estimated 30 percent of the rural population lacking access to internet speeds of at least 25 megabits per second — the FCC’s benchmark. But because ISPs like Comcast and Verizon hold virtual monopolies over providing broadband in some areas, there’s very little reason for them to invest and improve the sluggish speeds.

Some regions have started to take matters into their own hands. In January, the town of Fort Collins, Colorado voted to create a municipal broadband network, despite a rival lobbying campaign backed by Comcast. According to the ACLU, cities like Chattanooga and Lafayette already have some of the best internet speeds in the country; both use either city-run networks or start-up services.

“Good residential broadband and public WiFi are increasingly being seen not as costs, but ‘as an economic development engine,'” the report read. “Cities desperate for economic development cannot afford to rest their fates on the whims of a handful of large broadband providers.”

The repeal of net neutrality was heralded as a major victory for ISPs, as it allows them an unprecedented amount of control over what websites Americans can access, and potentially opens the door for them to collect data about customers using their services. Grassroots efforts to stop the repeal, then, have irked ISPs — so much that a group that represents some of America’s biggest telecom companies has vowed to sue any municipality that upholds its own version of net neutrality.

“[We will] aggressively challenge state or municipal attempts to fracture the federal regulatory structure that made all this progress possible,” USTelecom’s CEO Jonathan Spalter wrote on Monday.

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USTelecom’s board of directors includes executives from AT&T, Verizon, and more than a dozen other telecom companies.