There was a lot of talk about net neutrality a few years ago with regard to FCC repealing rules on Net Neutrality in 2018. This change in regulation restored power to the internet service providers to control content and charges among other aspects. However, there is another way for consumers to achieve net neutrality: own the internet service provider.
I was lucky enough to work with a group in Clatskanie, Oregon. In small rural areas, access to the internet can be incredibly expensive. When we moved out West, we lived off Burns Cove (off of Totten Inlet on the Salish Sea). Our internet access was provided through Verizon and cost $60 for 3 GB and the $30 for each 1 GB block after that. If we streamed a couple of movies, we could easily rack up a bill of $120/ month or more. This is the rule for internet access in small communities not on the grid. A neighbor told us that Comcast could bring a cable in for about $30,000 per household (and then we would still have to pay their monthly rates).
Clatskanie, with only about 2,000 people is in this boat. A small group, formed an ISP Co-op called Clatskanie Co-op. This group of people (up to 60 members now, I beleive), connect to each other and the main antennae through a node system. They literally connect a web nodal structure to create their internet service provider. They use Althea Mesh technology. I will let Althea’s page speak for itself, however it is a very interesting process.
The big value here is that this creates an affordable pathway for rural communities to access and control the internet. This means access to work and education opportunities, it means access to news and entertainment.
The members of Clatskanie have also worked to help other communities and there are networks planned for a number of communities on the exurban/rural edge of Portland as well as Tacoma. I think that this is a great opportunity for Resident Owned Communities. Manufactured home parks could easily add this infrastructure to their communities and created an added benefit for their resident-owners.
As rural broadband becomes an issue of development, we also need to make sure that co-ops aren’t paying for the infrastructure only to allow AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon to extract the wealth. We don’t need to spend our co-op dollars to build infrastructure to extractive corporations. Althea and Clatskanie show a better path.