In case you hadn’t noticed, the big communications companies and the big federal government are doing their best to limit access to the broadband lines coming into your home. Rob Pegoraro, a tech writer for the Post, tries to argue that there is still some competition in the market, but he doesn’t make a very good case.
Since the dawn of cable-modem access, such cable operators as Comcast and Cox have almost never allowed other companies to offer Internet access over their lines. The Supreme Court’s "Brand X" ruling in late June codified this state of affairs, ruling that cable operators could not be forced to let in competitors.
Phone companies such as Verizon, however, have been far more welcoming. Competing digital-subscriber-line providers did start out with the benefit of regulations mandating their access — a good thing, given the early obstructionist behavior of many phone carriers — but they’ve grown even as those rules have loosened.
The FCC’s vote two Fridays ago will end the obligation of incumbent phone companies to rent their DSL connections to competitors (they still must sell bare phone lines at a discount, allowing other firms to set up their own DSL services over them).
Frankly, I don’t trust Verizon or Cox, my only two choices, to provide reliable and reasonably priced broadband access. As Pegoraro points out, both have a long history of lousy service, high fees, and few options. I’ll bet you could substitute your phone and cable company in that statement.
But large communications companies have very deep pockets, matching very well with the voracious appetite for campaign funds of the politicians supposedly "regulating" them. As a result, Congress and the FCC, as well as state and local government agencies, have eagerly aided in blocking access to their pipes – which use public right-of-way, of course.
Possibly the power lines entering most homes may offer a third option, although this technology has been talked about for a decade or more with little to show for all the speculation. However, even if the system works, the power companies are no more likely than the cable or phone companies to allow competition for service over their lines.
Once upon a time, AT&T was broken up because they held a monopoly on the communications lines into the home. Access to the net is fast becoming a far more important link to the world than plain old telephone service. The lines are able to carry huge amounts of information and we are headed back to the good old days of a few large gatekeepers controlling the flow.