UTOPIA: Righting the Wrongs of the Telcos
If you're an American, your telephone and cable companies stole about $2,000 dollars from you in the last decade. They even did it without anyone so much as filing a lawsuit or getting the FCC or any state's PUC to take action. Want to know the best part? All the money they took from you was part of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, a law designed to decrease your cable and telephone costs and introduce more competition.
Instead, we have increasingly fewer choices for local phone service and a choice of another virual monopoly, satellite companies, for cable service. About the only choices these days are from BigBadTelco and Crooked Cable Company. They compete just enough to give the illusion that you have a choice, often pricing only a few dollars below what the competitor may offer. All the while they deliver poor service and their rates grow faster than inflation. They've also fleeced us out of nearly $200B dollars in collected fees while failing to invest that money into better services as promised.
And what exactly were those promises? By this year, 86 million households in America where supposed to have 45Mbps fiber optic service in their homes. We were supposed to have lower rates through these new high-tech delivery systems. We were supposed to stay competitive with countries like Korea where $40 a month gets you 100Mbps of speed, nearly 65 times what your average DSL line currently offers for about the same price. We shouldn't be the laughingstock of the industrialized world being ranked 12th in broadband subscribers. We got screwed by big companies looking to make a buck, break a promise, and totally get away with it.
Currently, television and telephone networks work kind of like rail lines. The company owns everything you can travel on, it's not going to let anyone else use their tracks, and they're concerned with fighting off anything that might decrease the number of users they can take in. Don't like it? Too bad. You don't have much of a choice, now do you? Enter municipal broadband. Municipal broadband is kind of like an airport. Anyone who wants to provide service can rent space in the airport and you get to choose your airline based on price and service. They're all truly competing against each other to try and earn your business, and if you get burned there's still a lot of other choices available.
Needless to say, muni broadband is a nightmare for phone and cable companies who've spent a lot of time and money getting entrenched in their little monopolies and being able to call the shots. Suddenly, they have some real competition. Qwest sued to stop UTOPIA. Bellsouth sued over a system in Louisiana. SBC pushes a bill banning municipal broadband in Indiana while Verizon does the same in Pennsylvania. All of them spread lies about how much municipal broadband costs to distract you from how much you're going to save. They're doing everything but actually being competitive in their pricing and services to stop their businesses from going under.
This desperation shows you how scared they are, and they should be. MStar is offering a combination of 15Mbps Internet, unlimited use phone service and cable television with tons of channels for $121 a month. I pay more than that for half the Internet speed (and 1/20th of the upload speed), a limited-use phone line, and the most basic of digital cable packages. For like services, I'd be saving about $30-40 a month, a pretty substantial discount AND I'd have better services. If I were Comcast, I'd be in the fetal position about now.
I have no sympathy for the likes of Time Warner Cable or Verizon. They could be competing with services like UTOPIA had they fulfilled their promises, investing that $200B in tax breaks and hiked fees into next-generation services and technology. Instead, they took the money and ran. With no other recourse, UTOPIA is our best bet at making good on their lies, broken promises, and stolen tax dollars.
I'd love to sign up for these services as soon as I can. Through a technicality in state law, however, the area I live in can't participate. The only participants can be incorporated cities, so that leaves people like me, dwellers in unincorporated county land, hanging out to dry. It's especially bad since the area I live in is entirely surrounded by an incorporated city who isn't participating.
Well let me tell you, I'm not going to stand for that. I've paid too much and gotten too little to find that I'm going to be shafted out of telecommunication nirvana because I live on the wrong side of the street. (No, seriously. If this house was a few hundred feet south, we could probably get it.) Tonight starts my campaign to change the state law and get the County Council digging trenches to hook me up. I'll pound the streets, write my elected officals, go to meetings… whatever it takes to stick it to the companies that have charged me too much money for not enough service.
(For some in-depth reading, check out this article.)