Guest columnist Northampton High-speed Community Network Coalition: Why support a municipal network?

Published: 4/27/2021 10:35:04 AM


You may have received the Northampton Internet Survey in the mail or seen it online. Please fill it in showing your support of the proposed municipal network. Here are just some of the many ways we believe such a network would benefit the city:

■Competition. Right now, one company effectively has a monopoly on internet access in Northampton. This monopoly suppresses innovation and keeps costs high.

Currently, the U.S. ranks 12th among nations in average internet speed, according to (behind Romania, Liechtenstein and Hungary). We find this unacceptable in the country where the internet was created. The average cost for broadband internet in the United States is higher than the average cost in the rest of North America, Europe or Asia, according to the New America Foundation.

It’s the lack of competition in markets across the U.S., just as exists in Northampton, that has created this situation.

■Higher speeds. Municipal networks like the ones built in South Hadley, Leverett and Westfield offer 1Gb/s speeds for the same price Northampton residents currently pay for downloading at 100Mb/s and uploading at 10Mb/s. That means that we could potentially have 10 times the download speed and 100 times the upload speed for the same price we pay now.

■Lower prices. The lack of competition in Northampton keeps internet prices high. A choice of internet providers would create downward pressure on price. One option the city could employ is to create the infrastructure, and invite private companies to use it (for a fee) to provide services and compete for customers. This option would bring in many competing potential providers and the competition would drive prices down.

Even if the city decides to run the network itself, or to subcontract it out to a single vendor, that competition would also work to create lower prices for customers.

■Better customer service. Similar to the way prices are established, having a monopoly reduces a provider’s incentive to keep customers satisfied. Introducing competition would create the need to maintain high customer satisfaction in order to retain customers.

■ Attract new businesses to Northampton (and keep existing businesses from leaving. Easthampton, Holyoke, Leverett, Westfield, Plainfield, South Hadley and Cummington are all either investigating, building, or have completed municipal networks already.

For Northampton to remain competitive — to continue attracting businesses to locate here, bringing new jobs to our city, there needs to be high quality, affordable internet service for businesses. A municipal network would provide just that.

■ Net neutrality: Net neutrality rules forbid providers from controlling how their customers use the internet. Net neutrality rules also protect users from internet providers slowing their traffic down when they use competing services like Netflix or SlingTV, for TV services, instead of the internet provider’s own TV service.

A municipal network could ensure that net neutrality rules are in place here in Northampton, regardless of what administration is running the Federal Communications Commission in Washington (where the current rules are made and enforced).

■Privacy: Many internet companies use information about you for marketing and increasing profits. Your internet provider can see how and when you use the internet. Since they’re able to make money from that information, it’s likely they will, and they’ll only protect your privacy if forced to.

This is important because your internet provider has access to comprehensive information about your internet usage. We believe a municipal network should have rules in place to protect your information and data, including requiring a court order for access to your private information.

■ Community media. Over the years, Northampton Open Media (NOM, formerly NCTV) has become a vital part of our community, providing transparency into local government. A municipal network can provide funding to sustain NOM, whose funding has been eroding due to subsidy cutbacks.

■Social justice: Getting an education, getting a job — and succeeding at that job, once you get it — are becoming increasingly dependent on internet use. To live and work in modern society, using the internet is essential.

Low-income households need to have internet access provided at a price they can afford. A private company is unlikely to meet that challenge, especially if it affects their bottom line, but a municipality can and should.

To achieve these improvements, and more, we believe it’s time for Northampton to have a municipal network. Please join us in advocating for one by taking the survey. A copy of the survey was mailed to every address in the city, but it can also be found at: .The submission deadline is April 28, even though the online version says April 23.

The members of the Northampton High-speed Community Network Coalition co-authored this column. They include Ryan Cheevers-Brown, Lee Feldscher, Penny Geis, Mark Hamill, Carl Townsend, Eleanor Wakin and Al Williams.

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