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[News] Municipal broadband advocates fight off attacks from “dark money” groups

Photo of a reel of conduit ready for installation.

The following article was published by Ars Technica:

Cities and towns that build their own broadband networks often say they only considered the do-it-yourself option because private Internet service providers didn't meet their communities' needs. When a cable or phone company's Internet service is too slow, too expensive, not deployed widely enough, or all of the above, local government officials sometimes decide to take matters into their own hands.

Hundreds of municipal broadband networks have been built around the US as a result, including dozens that have started operating since 2021. The rise of public broadband hasn't happened without a fight, though. Private ISPs that would rather face no government-funded competition have tried to convince voters that public networks are doomed to become boondoggles.

Opponents of public broadband don't always attach their names to these campaigns, but it often seems likely that private ISPs are behind the anti-municipal broadband lobbying. Public broadband advocates say that over the past few years, they've seen a noticeable increase in "dark money" groups attacking public network projects.

One prominent recent example is the "NoGovInternet" campaign run by the 501(c)(4) Domestic Policy Caucus. NoGovInternet has been fighting the UTOPIA (Utah Telecommunication Open Infrastructure Agency) fiber collective in Utah in what seems to be an attempt to dissuade other cities and towns from joining the multi-community network. The group's effort included TV ads as part of a campaign that reportedly cost $1 million.

Nonprofits registered as 501(c)(4) "social welfare organizations" are allowed to engage in some political activity. Public broadband advocates suspect that 501(c)(4) groups fighting municipal networks are funded by private ISPs. There's evidence to support this belief: Even though 501(c)(4) groups don't have to reveal donors, they sometimes list ISPs as "partners" or as sponsors of a conference.

The full article is available here.



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