- The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has released a report encouraging local governments to provide public broadband to counteract the federal net neutrality repeal.
- The group says internet infrastructure that is owned by municipal governments better protects user privacy, compared with service from private companies, which soon will not have to treat all internet traffic equally.
- The report suggests that a number of broadband investment options exist. A municipality can go "all in" and provide full internet service to each household, or it could require private telecom providers to respect free internet principles in order to use publicly owned assets such as pipes, tubes and other cable conduits.
The ACLU points out that the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) repeal of net neutrality, which requires all internet traffic to be treated equally, could soon lead to private telecom companies prioritizing content that could increase their profit while slowing down others'. That threatens online free speech and some consider it a form of censorship. The big telecom companies also can increase profits by gathering and selling information about internet users' surfing habits.
Most Americans also do not have many — or any — choices if they would like to switch to a new internet provider. Investing in public broadband with certain user privacy and service guarantees makes the setup more transparent, secure and beneficial for residents than private systems.
The report notes that internet access has become a necessity like water and power utilities, yet unlike other utilities, service is generally lacking. Broadband is a topic that shows a significant divide between residents in urban and rural areas, with urban experiencing the most coverage and rural the least. Lower income residents are also disproportionately affected by a lack of adequate internet service. Although the FCC repealed net neutrality, Chairman Ajit Pai has made it a priority to close the digital divide and provide all Americans — especially those in rural areas — with high-speed internet service.
Hundreds of municipalities already have built high-speed fiber networks. San Francisco released a request for qualifications earlier this year as an initial step toward building a citywide fiber network. Services range from public Wi-Fi to residential wireline broadband. Even in areas where residents don't have other options, the ACLU notes that municipally provided internet service allows residents a better voice regarding service because they can voice any complaints to elected officials as opposed to trying to get through to a large telecom company.
Greater privacy is a huge issue in an age where digital security breaches are becoming more prevalent, and municipal internet that abides by net neutrality principles is viewed as more secure, if nothing else than from the perspective of local governments not selling users' data. In addition to privacy, another boon is that municipal service usually is cheaper than what telecoms charge. Lower costs alone could lead to more widespread internet accessibility because more residents would be able to afford the service. Plus, service is generally viewed as more reliable and faster because the municipal model doesn't involve slowing down users' internet speeds in order to charge for "fast lanes."