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Group Recommends Locally Controlled Broadband for Consumer Privacy

A new study shows that local governments are better positioned to connect traditionally underserved communities to broadband internet. (Pixabay)
A new study shows that local governments are better positioned to connect traditionally underserved communities to broadband internet. (Pixabay)
April 17, 2018

SALT LAKE CITY – As Congress considers remedies for large-scale privacy breaches by Cambridge Analytica and Facebook, a recent report suggests that local municipalities could play a key role in protecting consumers.

The American Civil Liberties Union study says if cities and counties build out their own broadband networks, they could ensure privacy protections and keep the internet open for all residents who depend on access for health care, employment and other essential services.

Jay Stanley is the report's lead author of the American Civil Liberties Union's study "The Public Internet Option."

"The internet's really become a necessity in our lives, like water and electricity, and if you don't have control over your internet because some far-away company is giving you bad service and it's the only choice, that's a big problem - not only for you personally, but it's a failure of democracy," he explains.

Last year, Congress repealed privacy regulations that prohibited internet providers, such as Verizon and Comcast, from selling users' data without their consent. The FCC also repealed net-neutrality rules that prohibit companies from creating slow lanes for specific content. Critics of municipal broadband say it would create an uneven playing field for industry because cities already own the land needed to lay fiber, and cite the high costs of building out systems from scratch.

More than 20 state legislatures, including Utah, have passed bills backed by telecom groups restricting or banning municipal broadband. Stanley admits creating a network is a big commitment. But he says his research shows that hundreds of counties, cities and towns across the U.S. have found the investment has paid off with faster service and lower rates.

"They can do it the same way that cities do with sewer systems and electric systems, and with sidewalks and roads," he says. "And cities know how to do long-term infrastructure investments, they know how to finance them, and they know how to build them."

Stanley says local governments, charged with serving all residents, are also in a better position to connect traditionally underserved communities, including rural areas, low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

Eric Galatas, Public News Service - UT