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North Baltimore Residents Seek Broadband Options

Residents will be meeting with broadband providers about the lack of options for service in the city.

A group of North Baltimore communities, spearheaded by the Roland Park Civic League, wants to start a discussion with Internet providers about why options for broadband service are so limited.

Phil Spevak, civic league president, said the conversation about the lack of choice for broadband stemmed from the section of the neighborhood’s master plan about addressing outdated infrastructure. He said residents are concerned that the lack of competition is impacting prices and services.

"If you lived in Anne Arundel County you could pay about $30 less for service from Verizon, and get a better package than you would pay [Comcast] $30 more for in Baltimore," Spevak said.  

Residents will meet with representatives from Comcast and Verizon at 7 p.m. on March 14, at the Roland Park Presbyterian Church, to discuss what has been dubbed the North Baltimore Broadband Initiative. 

The idea to have a larger meeting about broadband service came together about three weeks ago following a meeting between representatives from Mt. Washington, Guilford, Homeland, Roland Springs and Wyndhurst about the issue.  

Spevak said so far the planning for this has been directly through local communities and that they have not formally spoken with elected officials about finding a way to address the broadband situation.

"We’ve not gone through the elected officials to ask them to help with this. It’s more that we’ve gone to the vendors straight and invited them," he said.

He said the community groups are not naive enough to thinking their advocacy will bring more change or instantly bring more providers into the city. But said he is hopeful the companies will eventually be responsive to what customers are asking. 

"I think it’s important to convey to the vendors the level of interest in this from the community," Spevak said.

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David Troy March 08, 2013 at 07:19 PM
Verizon is not going to build out any more FiOS capacity, and especially not in Baltimore. Same situation in Boston. They built FiOS to crush emerging competitors, and they have all been crushed. It never made money. Comcast will upgrade their infrastructure when they get around to it. There are no realistic options because we have failed to adopt a competitive regulatory stance at the Federal level. Read Susan Crawford's book, "Captive Audience" and you'll understand the situation a bit better.
Baltimore Matt March 08, 2013 at 08:03 PM
There are other options in Baltimore. I have been using Believe wireless for years and there is also a company called Port Networks. If companies like this would up their bandwidth capacity they could be seriosly competitive with the cable (they are already faster and more reliable than dsl). Another idea is to create a municipal internet company that could wire the entire city or have high speed wifi available througout the city. The city could issue municipal bonds to create this service and charge a rate that would 1) pay back the bonds and 2) sustain and improve the service. When thinking about this company would be structured, think about the cooperative electric companies that were created to wire rural America.
David Troy March 08, 2013 at 08:10 PM
Matt — if it was possible for these companies to expand profitably, they would. Unfortunately the current competitive and regulatory landscape largely prevent that. There are efforts underway to create a municipal broadband network, but in a city that can barely run its water and sewers, it's logical to be skeptical about whether this can be made to work. Still, it's worth trying for, but arguably it would be better to focus on truly underserved communities in the city. The myth that there is competition and a better way that's just around the corner with a bit of hard work is just that: a myth. We need to also focus on the fact that we've created the toxic regulatory climate that has led to the duopoly that we despise. To change things, we need to get real about creating a competitive regulatory landscape. Everything else is noise.
Baltimore Matt March 09, 2013 at 12:57 AM
There is no reason reason why we can't build a municipal wifi. It's inherently a hell of allot cheaper than running plumbing or building reservoirs to run fiber and cat 6 cable. If you were to set up a network that would link all of the blocks through Baltimore's own underground conduit and place powerful routers on just about all blocks we could do it. And why not??? We could even be able, with the right configuration to sell certain levels of speed or allow heavier users who pay more to directly hard wire into this network. When it comes to internet service providers, many people don't know that they have a choice of a providers other than Comcast or Verizon, that have extensive networks already built throughout the city. Maybe the city should try to enlist (contract) or buy out one of the smaller ISPs as a backbone to building it's own municipal network.
David Troy March 09, 2013 at 01:02 AM
Matt — I'm going to let you jump on that great business opportunity. Start with about 15 Million and you might end up with 1 Million! :) Municipal WiFi is a non-starter. Google couldn't make it work in their home town of Mountain View. A municipal fiber network is at least possible; consider Chattanooga TN or Lafayette LA. I spent many years in this business and have spent the last several researching the options for Baltimore, and also worked on the Google Fiber initiative. There are no realistic choices for consumer level broadband in most of the city, and Muni WiFi is a pipe dream. A smart private-public muni fiber play may be doable, but it will require more than optimism and a few routers. It's a big undertaking.

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