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Can Internet Access Cooperatives save the U.S. broadband gap?

photo of Michel Bauwens

Michel Bauwens
18th May 2013


Excerpted from a proposal by Thetabyte:

“Cooperatives offer a simple, albeit challenging, solution to a complex problem. If we, as Americans, are fed up with the state of broadband–with corporations who drive up prices, set arbitrary usage caps, or perform any action on a long list of customer abuses, why don’t we come together and establish broadband service for mutual benefit? In industries such as electricity, cooperatives offer the best customer service and cheapest prices–much easier to do when your company requires no profit, and its decision making body is comprised of its members. When Sonic.net can offer 1Gbps data for $69.99 a month (this article points out, when compared to Comcast’s “1.5Mbps service for a list price of $40?, this is a “600x faster at only twice the price”) without data caps, and make a profit, imagine what a customer focused cooperative could offer, in terms of speed, pricing, customer service, and more! Internet/Broadband cooperatives could offer the local competition necessary to take down regional monopolies, simultaneously lowering prices and spurring innovation while offering better services! With U.S. government in an increasingly regulation-hostile mood, cooperatives offer a way to fix American broadband without government regulation–we don’t need local loopback unbundling or strict regulation of service and advertising when cooperatives simply offer better service, forcing businesses to improve their services or get left behind!

Frustration with American broadband is growing–it plays a large part in this week’s initiative by technology news website Gizomodo, “Fix Cable”. An introductory article speaks on this frustration, and lays the blame on government regulation. While they might not be wrong, there is an alternative! If select number of determined activists get together and establish broadband cooperatives–if we as a people are willing to put our money into these, to help them establish themselves and grow–we bypass the muck of government regulation and the mess of big business and make the change ourselves! American Internet is greatly in need of change, so once again, I ask – where are the Internet cooperatives?

What Can I Do to Help?

If you would like to assist in the establishment of Internet cooperatives, you can do a number of things:

* Raise awareness of the cooperative movement. Not many people know what a cooperative is. Send them here, send them to the NCBA, or tell them yourself. Even sharing this post can help. Tweet it, share it, upvote it, what have you.

* Establish a cooperative. If you’re interested in business, or just want to be a huge part of this movement, start an internet cooperative in your area. This would be no small endeavor–in fact, it could possibly be a career–but it is possible, and will have to happen if we want to see Internet cooperatives. If you would like to pursue this, the NCBA has a help page for starting a cooperative.

* Provide pressure. Pressure the government to make cooperative friendly legislation. Pressure the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative to spend less time partnering with existing carriers or pushing DirectTV and spending more time cultivating local cable and broadband cooperatives

In Conclusion

American broadband is a mess, and neither government nor business offer an effective avenue to fix it. We must circumvent this entire system with a grassroots effort. Eighty years ago, electricity was as much a luxury as Internet is today. Cooperatives came into this city-only industry and help make it the nationwide guarantee. Although they face a much greater challenge today–modern Internet Service Providers are bigger, more politically powerful, more widespread, and better established then electric utilities of those days–we must follow their lead, and carry a movement for broadband cooperatives across the United States. Through this, perhaps one day, the U.S. can offer the same cheap, fast, widespread Internet offered in other countries–and who knows, if cooperatives can become truly widespread, maybe even better?”

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3 Responses to “Can Internet Access Cooperatives save the U.S. broadband gap?”

  1. Todd S. Says:

    It’s worth taking a deeper look at, but I’m dubious about the ability of a coop to simultaneously fight the big telecoms and run miles and miles of its own fiber optic lines.

  2. Matt Cropp Says:

    In Burlington, Vermont this is not a hypothetical question. Our existing municipal telecom has been on rocky ground the last few years, so we recently incorporated a co-op, elected a board, and are actively building our membership base in a bid to transition to cooperative ownership. It’s been (and going to continue to be) a lot of work, but the project has brought together an incredible and diverse community of very sharp and dedicated folks, and I’m feeling hopeful :) Further info:

    Website: www.keepbtlocal.com/
    FB: www.facebook.com/KeepBTLocal
    Interview with an organizer from early on in the project: www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQVHYmay55o

  3. Robert J. Berger Says:

    Unless we get the Government to protect coops enough so that the incumbents can’t just stomp them out with laywers, guns and money, it will be rare cases like Vermont and a few others that can get enough oxygen to survive long enough to get critical mass.

    Right now the Incumbents, the top levels of the Kleptocracy, have 100% regulatory capture and are using that to smash any potential competitor before they can get very far.

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