Repeating “SPEAK TO A REPRESENTATIVE” into the automated server, then spending hours on the phone with four different Comcast representatives only to hang up the phone with your internet still not working sounds like an absurd way to spend your afternoon, but is an unfortunately rather universal experience for consumers who are stuck relying on big telecom companies to stay connected.
Comcast, Charter (Spectrum), AT&T, Verizon, and Optimum are at the bottom of customer services rankings every year, but such an oligarchical industry allows them to advocate the death of net neutrality, price gouge, and provide the worst customer service in any industry in America and still remain giants in the broadband world.
Community-run ISPs are providing a remedy to those who have felt trapped by the lack of broadband networks that can provide both effective customer service and fast, reliable internet. “More than 750 communities around the country have now either built their own broadband networks or built local cooperatives in a quest for better, cheaper service,” reports Motherboard.
Chattanooga’s EPB, a city-owned and utility operated broadband provider, is a breath of fresh air for those tiring of suspicious fees and long phone calls with their ISP’s customer service. As the only ISP in a Consumer Reports survey that received positive rating for value, EFB is spurring a movement of smaller broadband providers who are on the consumer’s side.
“EPB was the top internet service provider in our telecom ratings two times in the past three years,” Christopher Raymond, electronics editor at Consumer Reports told Motherboard. “Consumer Reports members have given it high marks for not only reliability and speed, but also overall value—and that’s a rare distinction in an arena dominated by the major cable companies.”
Most municipal broadband providers, who are offering better services with cheaper, more transparent costs, are too small to be included in the Consumer Reports survey. But because community-run ISPs have a special interest in the communities that they are providing service to, they are offering overall better and cheaper broadband than private internet giants like Comcast and AT&T.
“Almost all community-owned networks offered prices that were clear and unchanging, whereas private ISPs typically charged initial low promotional or ‘teaser’ rates that later sharply rose, usually after 12 months,” said researchers in a Harvard study.
Comcast, clearly threatened by the concept of someone who can actually satisfy their customers, unsuccessfully tried to EFB, which is not an uncommon practice as more community-run broadband providers start popping up. Whether the suit is successful or not, it can leave the smaller ISP with unforeseen financial issues that severely damage them before they even get started. 21 states have passed laws clearly written by large ISP lobbyists that ban cities and communities from building their own networks.
But with the Trump administration’s war on net neutrality, citizens are starting to become more aware of the transgressions of the large ISP providers. Protectionist laws that discourage community-based broadband networks are facing rollbacks in states like Colorado and people are fed up with the unethical behaviors of their providers. Perhaps the move to smaller ISPs could become a widespread reality in the near future