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We Know How to Save the Internet: Towns and Cities across America Are Doing It

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With the announcement by the FCC that cable and telephone companies will be allowed to prioritize access to their customers, only one option remains that can guarantee an open Internet: owning the means of distribution.

Thankfully an agency exists for this: local government. Owning the means of distribution is a traditional function of local government. We call our roads and bridges and water and sewer pipe networks public infrastructure for a reason.

In the 19th century, local and state governments concluded that the transportation of people and goods was so essential to a modern economy that the key distribution system must be publicly owned. In the 21st century the transportation of information is equally essential.

When communities own their roads they can and have established the rules of the road. The most fundamental and ubiquitous is what might be called road neutrality. Everyone has equal access regardless whether they drive a Ford or a Chevy, a jeep or a moped.

About 20 years ago, exasperated by high prices, poor service and a callous disregard of cable and phone companies for the future communications needs of their host communities, American cities began building their own networks. Initially these were based on cable and later on fiber. Today, almost 90 communities have citywide fiber networks. Another 74 have citywide cable networks. Scores more have partial fiber networks that serve public institutions - local government, libraries, schools, networks - and could easily be extended. (See the Institute for Local Self-Reliance's comprehensive map of muni networks in the United States.)

More than 3 million people currently live in communities with a publicly owned communications network. Unlike the FCC, cities that own their telecommunications networks can, and undoubtedly will respond to the will of their citizens by embracing the principle of net neutrality.    


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