Growing up, we all hear rumors about magical places.
It’s even got the president’s attention.
The president’s a busy guy, so he only had three and a half minutes to explain what’s up. Here’s what you need to know:
Fantastic places. Places where the Internet actually works well. Where you can download a movie in under a minute. Where your Wi-Fi doesn’t stop working for no apparent reason whatsoever. Where your Wi-Fi doesn’t stop working for no apparent reason whatsoever.
Maybe you read about them in storybooks. Maybe your friends whispered about them to you on the playground. Maybe your grandma told you old tales about them as she tucked you in at night. But as you grew older, more and more people told you that it was all made up, a myth for children. Those places didn’t really exist. Can you believe we all thought they did? And you nodded and laughed about how silly it all sounded in retrospect. But secretly, deep down, you always believed.
Well, those places are real. There are places that have reliable, fantastic, extremely zippy Internet!
Major cities, even. World-leading cities. Cities like…
Wait, uh, where?
According to Wikipedia, Cedar Falls, Iowa, is the smaller of the two major cities in the Waterloo-Cedar Falls metro area. Sen. Chuck Grassley lived there for a while. It’s home to the Cedar Falls Ice House Museum, a historical round barn that once stored between 6,000 and 8,000 tons of ice.
Cedar Falls also has super-amazingly crazy-fast Internet. Like, basically double the speed of the Internet in…
The big boys don’t even compete.
Don’t believe me? Take a look at this boring chart.
The reason why Cedar Falls has such crazy-fast Internet?
They got together as a community and built their own public network.
And they run it like a utility. So the same way that you pay the heating bill or the gas bill, you pay an Internet bill. And because the whole city pitched in, they’re able to offer fiber-optic networks’ blazing fast speeds. The problem is that some companies — not saying who, not pointing fingers…
…aren’t too keen on the competition. So they’ve been throwing vast sums of money at politicians in cities around the U.S. to dissuade them from building their own networks. They’ve also been pressuring communities with pre-existing networks from expanding their services into suburban and rural areas where the cable companies are the only game in town.
But what’s the problem with a little competition?
That’s capitalism, yo.
No one is trying to put the cable companies out of business. But if better Internet is out there, why shouldn’t folks be able to access it? And if competition from super-fast public networks motivate the cable companies to improve their service or bring down prices, isn’t that the whole point?
I’m no economist, but I think that’s the point.
This Washington Post article is a pretty comprehensive summary of everything that’s going on — the progress that’s being made getting these networks built and the resistance from cable companies when communities try to build them. And here’s an article about another American city that succeeded in building a public fiber-optic network and how great it’s been for, like, everybody all around.
It’s possible to make the Internet better. We just gotta do it.
Cheap, fast Internet. Let’s make it happen, folks.
These municipal networks were coming into existence in a lot of places, until the major communications companies attacked them. Then those companies were allowed to merge and take over competitors and become ubiquitous (and then they started getting into actual content, but that’s another story).