Do democratically-elected local governments have the right to provide high-speed Internet access at rates lower than private companies charge?
Private companies don’t think so.
From San Francisco to St. Cloud, Fla., an estimated 200 communities are toying with community-owned networks, sparking a battle with cable and telephone companies over how public, or private, access to the Internet should be.
The companies are lobbying furiously to block such plans, fearful that their businesses would be hurt. Their efforts most recently paid off Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, where a new law bans local governments from creating their own networks without first giving the primary local phone company the chance to provide service.
Consumer advocates denounce the new Pennsylvania law. They say it amounts to governments now needing a permission slip from entrenched monopolies to put a vital economic and educational tool within everyone’s reach.
I thought one of the wonderful things about private enterprise is its supposed tendency to drive down costs. But what if the public sector can provide a service cheaper? Is it right to outlaw competition just because it happens to be publicly-funded– especially for a service that is becoming a necessity?