Bell Companies Stifle Broadband Growth, Critics Say

Jeff Berg
LAFAYETTE, La. — Large regional telecommunication companies are attempting to stop small cities and town from creating their own broadband networks, according to the mayor of rural Lafayette, and using the aid of the FCC to do it.

Joey Durel, mayor of the 116,000 person-large town located in southern Louisiana, says that BellSouth, the regional telecommunications company that operates in the south-eastern United States, is attempting to stymie the city’s plans to create a broadband network that would offer data, voice and video to the town’s residents.

“We have the opportunity to do something great for this community – and in a state that needs a big win,” Durel told USA Today Wednesday. “They have to get out of our way.”

The companies, according to critics, are engaging in a tactic where they attempt to leverage threats of decreased broadband deployment against regulators in order to receive concessions and forcing states like Pennsylvania, which recently considered a Verizon-backed bill to bar cities from selling broadband services, to allow them a monopoly on high-speed Internet access.

Currently, U.S. consumers pay relatively high rates for high-speed Internet access, averaging around $35 to $40 a month for speeds of one to two megabits per second. Japanese Internet users pay about $15 a month for speeds of 30 megabits per second or higher.

According to people like Mark Cooper, research chief for the Consumer Federation of America, the Bell companies can maintain high prices for service because of a series of waning promises made to the FCC in exchange for rulings that would allow the companies to deny rivals access to their lines, a former staple of telecommunications regulation.

In exchange for promising to run fiber lines straight to homes, for example, the FCC ruled that the companies should not be forced to open their lines to competing companies.

Currently, BellSouth intends to run fiber to neighborhoods and use copper wires to connect to homes. SBC has asked to be allowed to take fiber to nodes, the copper wires that run from switching offices to homes and businesses, lengthening the distance from fiber connections to homes even farther.

“By splicing in a little fiber, the Bells can squelch competition,” EarthLink Vice President Dave Baker told USA Today. “There can be and should be competition in broadband services on new networks.”