Access to high-speed internet in our homes is an essential service like water and electricity, not a luxury. Our local and regional governments have a responsibility to provide equitable, accessible, and affordable fast-internet service to every home and business- just like electricity, water, and waste removal. Portland, Oregon, has existing infrastructure that can be used to provide affordable access to fast-internet for all Portlanders: a publicly owned dark fiber network used for essential city services – IRNE (Integrated Regional Network Enterprise) Net. Expanding and opening access to IRNE Net would encourage the growth of new local internet service providers (ISPs), provide a new source of revenue for the City of Portland, and create the means through which to give Portlanders affordable access to high-speed internet, in every home and business. 

This essential service in Portland is provided by corporations charged with making as much profit as possible - resulting in predatory behavior towards consumers. In the past, the capital investment necessary to build robust broadband service resulted in only a few large under-regulated corporations controlling internet access and service offerings in the Portland Metropolitan region. Oftentimes that infrastructure was built with public funds, through federal grant programs. Yet ownership remains with private corporations, who also pocket significant profits.

Municipal Broadband Across the U.S.

In the United States, in 2018, over 100 communities nationwide were offering some form of high-speed internet service. Since then, there has been a dramatic expansion in this space. Currently, over 600 communities offer municipal broadband in some capacity, an increase of more than 600 percent since 2018. Municipal broadband can be both faster and more affordable than internet offered by privately owned ISPs and helps bring high-quality internet to places with limited access, such as rural and low-income areas. It also keeps taxpayer money local, and local control of internet provision leads to more accountability and greater competition in areas with only one or two providers, incentivizing those providers to offer better, more affordable services.

Research has also supported these claims. For example, researchers at Harvard University’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society Research found that in 23 of 27 communities examined, community-owned networks offered lower pricing than their privately owned counterparts when costs were averaged over four years. Furthermore, according to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR), a nonprofit advocacy group, municipal networks account for nine of the ten fastest broadband networks in the country. One of the best-known examples of municipal broadband in the U.S. is in Chattanooga, Tennessee, where, in 2010, the city-owned utility EPB famously became the first provider in the country to offer gigabit internet service throughout its entire service area. Today, EPB is the largest municipally-owned fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network in the country, and one of several ISPs nationwide to offer speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second. Instead of bankrupting the city or putting stress on taxpayers, it’s attracting industry and businesses to the area, helping to revitalize a community that was once dependent on pollution-heavy manufacturing. Developers, computer programmers, investors and entrepreneurs now call the city home. 

ISP’s Political Influence

The reach of private providers like Comcast and CenturyLink is far and wide when it comes to controlling access to fast-internet in Oregon. Those corporations contribute to political campaigns to influence policy, and provide talking points and information to elected officials about the telecommunications industry. Our elected representatives are facing a myriad of problems that need solutions, and the telecom industry is very good at making it easy for policy makers to “learn” from their industry propaganda.

Local elected officials lack a fundamental understanding of how public broadband infrastructure can result in community and economic development when we remove the barriers to access created by private providers in their pursuit of profits. Expensive internet service provided by a few non-Oregon based corporations is hurting communities and the regional economy.

Power ultimately comes from the electorate, and Portlanders have the power to change this.The ‘not-so-local’ corporate owners of Portland’s fast-internet service companies don’t want people to know that public ownership of broadband infrastructure is both feasible and would provide benefits to all Portlanders.

Opportunity for Change in Portland, OR

Starting in 2024, Portland will switch from five citywide council seats (Mayor + 4 commissioners) to four districts, each represented by three City Council members. The change in the Portland city government charter means all the newly created council seats are up for election and creates an unprecedented opportunity to influence how fast-internet service is provided in the Portland Metropolitan region. Residents need to start now to educate the new City Council representatives on how to change the way of doing business in city government. It is possible to reclaim power from the Big Tech internet providers in Portland, and offer truly fast, affordable internet service to every Portland home and business. It is time to create fast-internet infrastructure in the Portland Metropolitan region that is treated as a public good for the public good.

Please email to start or join a broadband action team in your neighborhood today!

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