More internet options – in theory

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Home Internet is one of the most infuriating services in the United States. But since the pandemic showed just how bad things have gotten, we’re starting to see some changes.

May be.

Decades of failed policy show how far the United States must go to achieve better and fairer online access for all.

Over the past two decades, government regulators have written and rewritten rules that have resulted in a simple goal: that Americans who live in apartment buildings can choose their Internet service provider, even if the owner has a provider. prefer. In many cases, this provider pays for the privilege.

The idea is that if renters have a choice of internet service providers — as Americans often do with cell phone companies or grocery stores — they’re more likely to find the product they want at a fair price. .

But all the while, apartment owners and big internet service companies have found ways to circumvent government rules. They have effectively blocked internet businesses starting many buildings. Regulators know this, but little has changed.

Last month, the FCC pulled out his pencils again. On paper, people who live in apartments and HLMs will have more information and power to choose their own ISP, no matter what their owner wants. We’ll see.

The government’s failure to achieve in practice what it requires in principle is a microcosm of America’s stinky Internet.

The United States has the illusion of free competition in the market for Internet services. There’s a lot of government regulation, but it’s not particularly effective. This dysfunctional double whammy is dragging down the US economy, wasting taxpayers’ and consumers’ money, and excluding many Americans from modern life.

The result: the Americans pay more for worse internet service than our peers in most rich countries. On 15 million Americans, or more, do not have modern Internet access; the system is so confused that we don’t know exactly how much. Many others cannot afford it.

There is a sense of urgency to resolve these issues. The pandemic has awakened more American policymakers and the public to the need for internet service and how the current system is failing us. New congressional funding and technological changes are enabling new approaches to connecting Americans.

That momentum will be wasted, however, if government officials cannot enforce competition rules, including for about a third of Americans who live in apartments.

FCC apartment rules are “a cautionary tale,” says Greg Guice, director of government affairs for the public interest group Public Knowledge. “If you say you’re solving a problem, you have to make sure you’re solving the problem.”

In apartments, Internet service providers need permission from building owners to install their equipment to connect tenants. In theory, owners should have a good excuse to say no. Often they don’t.

Genna Veksler, co-founder of the small internet service provider Brooklyn fibertold me he regularly receives calls from potential clients in apartment buildings, but is turned down by property managers who cite a list of objections.

They worry about construction dust or disruptions from installing a new company’s internet lines — though Veksler said Brooklyn Fiber could wire homes with relatively little hassle. Building officials also say tenants don’t need more than one internet option.

Veksler doesn’t bother to raise the FCC rules with the owners because Brooklyn Fiber doesn’t have the money to handle it the American way: by hiring lawyers. “It’s not a fight we can win; therefore, it is not a fight worth fighting,” Veksler said.

Veksler, Guice and others who want better and fairer Internet service in the United States are nonetheless cautious optimism that the FCC can give apartment residents more choices, if the agency has bitten behind its rules.

After San Francisco pass a law in 2016, toughening the rules for tenant internet choices, city prosecutors made it clear what potential penalties were if apartment owners did not comply, said Ernesto Falcon, senior legislative counsel at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital rights advocacy group. Penalties included legal action that could be taken by the city, service providers or tenants. This seemed to work.

After two years of emergency and action, people hardened by years of internet dysfunction in the United States are torn between hope and pessimism.

Big changes like this don’t come fast and it’s never easy,” said Virginia Lam Abrams, who oversees government affairs for the internet service provider. Star. But, she said, “we have the ability to actually fix things that have been broken for a long time.”


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look at this dancing woodcock. Yes, it’s supposed to look like that. (Thanks to my colleague Dodai Stewart for tweeting this one.)


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