June 16, 2024


Sapiens Digital

Cheap and Fast Municipal ISPs are Blocked in Almost Half of the US

2 min read

Every year, BroadbandNow
delves into the world of municipal broadband with a report on which states have
made it illegal for towns and cities and counties to set up their own ISPs, or make it really difficult.  The report for
, written by telecom analyst Kendra Chamberlain, has a silver
lining, though. Since the 2019 report,
the number of states actively blocking or outlawing municipal broadband has
dropped from 25 to 22. If your state above is in green, start searching now for
a municipal provider—or at least for a smaller, faster ISP.

Those three states now allowing muni-based internet are Arkansas,
California (which actually passed a law in 2018 to stop restrictions), and Connecticut.
In addition, seven states now have task forces in place to try to get more
broadband: Idaho, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, and

The reason tends to be that lawmakers finally see the gaps in
broadband coverage, and sometimes only locals are in a position to do
something about it—or they’re the only ones who care, since major ISPs don’t want to
move into an area that won’t give them more cost benefits.

By BroadbandNow’s count, there are 331 municipal networks
in the US. It knows, because the site exists to help people find internet
service and tracks the pricing. It also found that the states with obstruction
on muni networks all have higher-than-average ISP costs, based on pricing
from Q2 2020. At least 55 percent of the US population with access to wired broadband
live in states with no muni network roadblocks.

The barriers to entry vary from state to state, and some
states have multiple barriers (as indicated in the map above). Some are vague bureaucratic
nonsense; some are outright laws against selling local internet access that
isn’t from a private telecom (looking at you, Missouri and Nebraska), referendum
requirements that benefit the telecoms, funding barriers. One state—Nevada—puts
a weird population cap on which areas can have muni networks. And of course, one
puts such excessive taxes on muni broadband that it’s almost impossible to establish; nice
going, Florida. Several states have multiple roadblocks on the books: Virginia,
Wisconsin, and Alabama are the worst offenders.

Despite these stumbling blocks, some of these states have
managed to establish muni networks. Florida actually has two. Tennessee has bureaucratic
limits, but that hasn’t stopped the
Electric Power Board (EPB) of Chattanooga
from delivering one of the first
and best 1 Gigabit muni fiber networks for customers (it frequently appears in
our Fastest ISPs stories)—but
it can’t extend outside its
electric service area.

If you’re curious for more details, you’ll find plenty, plus
the full methodology of how BroadbandNow comes to these conclusions, in the full

Further Reading

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