Should the Internet Be Like The Public Library?

As Americans, we love to think we’re number one, but the truth is that when it comes to internet speed we’re pretty mediocre. In fact, one recent study put the U.S. at number 31 in the world in overall download speed, lagging behind much smaller and less developed countries like Estonia, Hungary, and Slovakia. Internet speeds in the U.S. average out around 20.77 megabits per second, which is less than half of the average internet speed in Hong Kong, which has the world’s fastest internet. For a country like ours, the country that invented the internet and is home to some of the world’s most powerful tech companies, this is just embarrassing.

But now residents of the small town of Rockport, Maine will get to experience the kind of super high-speed internet that the rest of the world has access to on a daily basis. That’s because on Monday, Rockport officially launched its very own municipally-owned fiber-optic internet network. The culmination of a partnership between the town and state governments, a local telecom company called GWI, and a nearby college, Rockport’s network is the first of its kind in the Pine Tree State. It’s also a great deal for customers. As the Portland Press Herald reports, “At about $69 a month for 100 megabits per second of upload and download speed, Rockport’s service outpaces Time Warner Cable, whose fastest advertised service is 50 megabits per second for downloads and 5 megabits per second for uploads.”

As of now, Rockport’s fiber-optic network is only available to around 70 businesses and households. However, its supporters, like Maine Senator Angus King, expect it to grow rapidly over the next few years and believe it will be a positive example in a state that ranks literally next to last in overall internet access. In today’s economy, internet access shouldn't be considered a luxury, it should be a right, which is exactly why other cities like Chattanooga, Tennessee and Lafayette, Louisiana have done the same thing as Rockport, Maine and set up their own city-run fiber-optic networks.

Comcast and Verizon don’t want you to know this, but the major reason internet access and internet speed is so bad here in the U.S. compared to the rest of the developed world is that the private companies that dominate our telecom industry have so little competition that they simply don't care about making things better for their customers. Investing in ultra-fast fiber-optic internet like the kind now available in Rockport is really, really expensive, and the way big internet giant giants see it, it’s far easier (and more profitable) to just keep prices high and speeds low. The fact that our four biggest internet service providers are virtual monopolies virtually guarantees this will stay this way, too, because without any meaningful competition they have zero incentive to change their ways.

That’s why what’s going on in places like Rockport and Chattanooga is so important. Not only does municipal internet give everyday people access to lightning fast internet at a reasonable cost, it also cuts away at the power of the big telecom monopolies.

There’s a bigger picture here, though, and that’s the fact that internet has become an essential part of our information commons, like public libraries and public schools. And just like water or electricity, because most people only have one or two ways to get the internet at a reasonable speed, it’s a natural monopoly that should be in the hands of “We the People,” not just the private for-profit corporations.

Every American town should do what Rockport, Maine and Chattanooga, Tennessee have done and build a publically-owned fiber-optic network. If they can’t afford to do that, the state or federal government should step in and help them finish the job, just like we did with electric power in the 1930s with the REA and with telephone service to rural areas in the 1940s and 1950s.

The internet is as important to our development today as electricity and phone service were to Americans living in the early 20th century. The stakes are simply too high to let giant virtual monopolies steal our information commons - that was created by our government in the first place - just so they can make a few bucks. Let's hope that Rockport, Maine’s new fiber-optic network will be the spark that sets off a municipal internet revolution.


catman306's picture
catman306 9 years 45 weeks ago

I get just 2.43 Mbps for $44/mo. ATT can't even provide me with the 3.0 I think I'm paying for.

Competitionless crooks run America. And LOL, my spellchecker doesn't even recognize the word! Kind of like finding the word 'fascist' (lower case) in a main stream American publication during the Reagan years.

goat-on-a-stick's picture
goat-on-a-stick 9 years 45 weeks ago

I barely get 30 MB/s from cox for 69$ a month. I would triple my speeds with no extra cost under Rockport's plan.

The internet should be open to everyone because it benefits everyone. The more people on the internet, the more commerce increases, and the more streamlined and efficient commerce becomes. It's a win-win. No monopoly should profit from strangling connection speeds as it now stands.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 45 weeks ago

Yeah Thom, I'm hoping.

Frankly, I find this infuriating. Between five and ten times a day, our Frontier "high-speed" internet service gets so flaky that we have to shut down Safari and reboot the goddam "airport". So tiresome! You bet I'm hoping Rockport, Maine is starting a new trend; something in our best interests for a change!

Like I've said many times, everything we depend on that ends up in corporate hands just turns to shit. So what's next; the post office? Our water system? The fire department? Are those gonna be privatized too? What a load of shit. Hey, look what those hacks did to our healthcare system!! - Aliceinplunderland

Frosty46's picture
Frosty46 9 years 45 weeks ago

WOW! We stupid Americans are ranked thirty something in healthcare stats and thirty first in internet speed yet pay insane prices for both----how's that for really stupid? Rightwing Republicans have kept our sick nation screwed for many decades and the citizens have been so cooperative all along the way. By means of ignorant religious views, dumb political views and just plain ol FEAR, the America people are so easy to game it's unbelieveable to the rest of the civilized world. I have been amazed by the ease with which the Rightwing controls it's US media outlets and through them the populous of stupids for many decades.

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 45 weeks ago

Frosty, I couldn't have said it better.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 45 weeks ago

frosty46 -- Very well put. Now for the hard part, how do we fix it?

I think the way to do it is to read the powell memo, and whatever it says do the opposite.

I think the most powerful tool would be to enforce the Sherman Antitrust law vigorously. Break up the media companies into very small pieces; then, put all colluders in jail.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 45 weeks ago

Part of the reason why AT&T, among others, can't give us truly high speeds is because, although they say they are upgrading to fiber optics, they are only upgrading part of the system to fiber optics. They won't get rid of the old, weathered, worn out and noisy copper wire pairs that they run between the box on the sidewalk--the SAI (which may be several blocks away or several miles away) to our houses. Seems that AT&T will only put fiber all the way to the house is if it is a housing project being built.

If we had fiber optics all the way to our houses then we could very easily get truly high 100Mbps. But, AT&T would rather use deceptive marketing practices to convince us that their less than optimal speeds is very attractive and will solve all of our problems, that we will have super fast internet speeds along with multiple HDTV sets in the house all running simultaneously (but that is very rarely true) and that we should all bow down before them and pay their high prices.

Copper wires were never meant to carry really high speeds. And when the insulation starts to crack and water seeps in as will happen over time by the weather and constant swaying to and fro in the event they are suspended by telephone poles, the copper lines become noisy. When that happens, in the typical POTs (Plain Old Telephone) setup you start to hear crackling, popping, or poor audio when you are listening to a conversation on the telephone. You don't even have to have audio noise to have inaudible noise that adversely affects higher frequencies that internet speeds uses. It might just be intermittent. But it is evidence of a problem with the telephone system..especially the copper lines. When you try to use higher frequencies* to modulate digital data over those DSL or ADSL or VDSL, or , a noisy line attenuates the signals and data loss occurs. When this happens, the TCP/IP packets carrying internet data gets lost and retransmission of those packets have to be done (they have to be resent). UDP/IP, which is used for things like audio or video doesn't have to retransmit lost packets as in TCP/'ll just see it as a slight (or great) loss in video or's not as important as losing text information sent via TCP. You may have bought a certain advertized "up to" speed(Mega bits per second) package from your ISP but it is almost an impossibility that anyone can actually get the advertized "up to" speed. The speed they actually get may be half or three forth of that all depends upon a number of factors including how far away from the SAI (Serving Area Interface--the metal cabinet on the sidewalk) and the Central Office, and the condition of your copper wire pairs that run between that metal grey box (the SAI) and your house. If you have noisy copper wire pairs then you may have intermittent speeds as lost packets means it has to retransmit what was lost.

The solution is to have fiber optics run all the way to peoples houses. Get rid of all of that old flaky copper wire.

I have AT&T POTS (Plain old telephone system)...the old system... and I am paying my ISP for 5Mbps. And I pay about $39.95/month. I have had it for many years and I don't think my rates have ever gone up....that's my ISP but, of course, I also have to pay AT&T for the POTS telephone service. I usually get about 4.25 Mbps internet speed as measured with a number of different on-line speed checkers. Occasionally, I have intermittent problems that I've monitored with Wireshark which shows the dropped packets and retransmissions. This speed is really fine with me as I don't watch on-line movies. I do watch Youtube videos and I rarely have problems with that. I can also download youtube videos and watch them later.

Although, I would sure love to have something like 100Mbps to be able to watch on-line hi-def's just not worth paying the exorbitant rates they want for even a 10Mbps service and that would not be reality because you can never get the advertized "up to" speed. It is not really being dishonest..but kind of deceptive...if you are very lucky, you can get "up to" that speed but most people will not.

Another thing they are doing, at least Comcast (cable) is currently, is allowing your neighbors to use your access point (like a DSL router/modem with wireless networking only it has proprietary firmware that you have to have in order to connect with Comcast). Some of the data (but not your data) that flows into your access point can be radiated, using your wireless network, to your neighbors. Your neighbors are supposed to be subscribed to Comcast to be able to do this and then they can connect to the internet through your wireless access point. Comcast claims that it doesn't adversely affect your speed but I sure don't believe it. When I see the leds flashing on my ADSL2+ modem/router I know that data is being passed either into or out of my modem/router. If I am not doing anything on my computer, I'm either getting a scheduled update or something fishy is going on. And I can check to see if it was the former. When your neighbors are running data over your access point, you see those leds flashing you cannot tell if it is them or us. What would be even scarier is if the firmware in the access points were made to not flicker the LEDS when neighbors data is flowing through the access point.

Bottlenecking is another problem...especially with Comcast. The more people that are on the shared Comcast lines, the more apt that bottlenecking will occur. Your effective speed and bandwidth will suffer.

With the POTS system and when using a ADSL router/modem, most people get a new IP address every time they power on their ADSL router/modem. When you sign up for AT&T Uverse or Comcast you get a permanent IP number and most people just don't power off their access point because their telephone system is now going through it. And even if you did power off/on the access point, you'd still get the same assigned permanent IP number. This can have some security I believe it would be a lot easier to trace someone with a permanently assigned IP number rather than a temporarily assigned one. The temporarily assigned ones are automatically assigned for a limited period of time (say maybe a couple of days) then a new one may be assigned. If you power off your ADSL router/modem for any length of time, then turn it back on you usually get an entirely new IP number. Of course, if you are very concerned about being tracked by IP number (records are kept for a certain amount of time that the authorities can access or maybe some hackers as well) then you should be using TOR (The Onion Router) which obfuscates and encrypts messages and uses a number of bogus IP numbers along the route of the many hops between participating TOR nodes.
carrier freqency (Khz or Mhz)-----download speed----upload speed----range
(POTS) voice: (3KHz) 56Kbps analog modems
(POTS) ADSL: (up to 1104 KHz)----8Mbps down----1Mbps up
(POTS) ADSL2: ---------------------------12Mbps down---3Mbps up------- 3km
(POTS) ADSL2+: (2.2Mhz) ---------- 24 Mbps down---1.2Mbps up ---1.8km
VDSL: -------------- (12 Mhz) ---------- 52Mbps down---1.5-2.3Mbps up---1.0km
VDSL2: (future) (30 Mhz) ----------- 100Mbps down

For ADSL(Asynchronous DSL), the copper goes right back to the exchange; the cabinet on the sidewalk (the SAI) is just effectively acting as a junction box.

For VDSL (Very High Bit-Rate DSL), the copper runs from the home to the cabinet (SAI): (FTTC - Fiber to the curb), and then fiber goes to the exchange. The SAI box is modified with modules that speak VDSL. The light signal data from the fiber optics has to be converted to electrical data for the copper lines to the house. The length of the copper line from the house to the SAI has to be less than 1km (.62 miles) for the maximum transmission rates of 52Mbps. You can go up to 2.5 miles but you will only get ADSL speeds. And that assumes that your copper is not weathered and/or exhibiting problems.

For fiber going directly to the home from the SAI: (FTTH- Fiber to the Home) aka (FTTP-Fiber to the Premises), this would be the fastest (way faster than VDSL using copper to the home) and least troublesome.

ADSL has a range of approx. 6 km (3.73 miles) to the DSLAM (DSL
Access Multiplexer) of the ISP, the Internet Service Provider

And another reason why I won't go AT&T or Comcast is that they don't provide the channels I like to watch: RT, FSTV, LinkTV and a few others. I think I'll just stay with Dish Satellite Network where they do provide those channels.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 45 weeks ago

We could think of it as "in the interest of National Security". If an atomic bomb is ever detonated over the central part of the US, at a certain altitude, it would create a Electo Magnetic Pulse (EMP) that would wipe out most of our communications and power stations. Fiber optics would be immune to such a disaster. Obviously though, we need power stations to keep our communications going, too. But I guess that's another thing they need to work on.

And then there are solar flares that may, one day, do the same thing as an atomic bomb..only it could be far worse.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 44 weeks ago

PAL -- Thom was saying that Chattanooga has download speeds of 1 Gbps. They, of course, provide fibre optic cables to everyone. Do you have anyway of confirming this information?

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 44 weeks ago

chuckle8: Which information are you referring to?

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 44 weeks ago

PAL -- Does Chattanooga get 1Gbps download speed?

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 44 weeks ago

I understand that Chattanooga's EPB Fiber is providing 1Gbps both upload and download speeds. Their price has come down from $300 to $65 because of Google's Fiber in other places around the Utah's Utopia

Google Fiber is currently in Austin, TX; Provo, UT; Kansas City, KS
But not yet in Tennessee.

They are coming to Portland, San Jose, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Raleigh-Durham.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 44 weeks ago

PAL -- Thanks for the info. What is EPB fiber?

I was hoping that the local govt in Chattanooga owned the cable, but I guess not.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 44 weeks ago

PAL -- I went to the links you provided. Now I am getting ads for internet providers. I have no problem with this; however I was surprised how quickly the ads appeared.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 44 weeks ago

If you are using Firefox, you might try an add-on called NoScript. It tends to keep the ads well as a lot of other junk (malware). There are other add-ons as well and even the other browsers have add-ons that can keep ads away.

And here is a website that you might find interesting if you are using Firefox. It tells you how you can make changes in "about:config" to make your browsing more secure.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 44 weeks ago

PAL -- Thanks and what is EPB fiber?

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 44 weeks ago

chuckle8: My guess is that it is the name of the company.

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 44 weeks ago

PAL -- Thanks. I went to their website and the offer 1Gbps for $24.99 per month

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 44 weeks ago

Holy Cow! Really? I never checked how much their current price is...just what I've heard from others...which was about 3 times that amount for 1Gbps.

Palindromedary's picture
Palindromedary 9 years 44 weeks ago

Since EPB Fiber is located at 10 W. M L King Blvd, right in the heart of Chattanooga, I suppose they would be servicing only the ones in the downtown zip code areas of 37402, 37403, 37404, and 37408 to begin with. Man, I'm envious! 1 Gbps at $24.99/ month! Drooling! Drooling!

Aliceinwonderland's picture
Aliceinwonderland 9 years 44 weeks ago

We're getting DSL "high speed" internet from Verizon for about $60 a month and it bloody sucks. On-again-off-again; reboot, reboot, reboot! (SIGH) - AIW

chuckle8's picture
chuckle8 9 years 44 weeks ago

PAL -- Unfortunately they are only available in a limited number of areas. They are not available in my zip code.

jacklance's picture
jacklance 8 years 47 weeks ago

While it would be nice to have that speed, government ownership of the infrastructure seems like a bad idea to be. I would rather it be in private hands as much as possible.

I know many disagree, many here think it's better to have the government own and control anything rather than have it privately owned. I do not share your faith in the benevolence of government.

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