In cities and rural swaths across the country, there are hundreds of small internet service providers owned by member cooperatives, local municipalities, or tribal governments.
Over the past two decades, these small ISPs have been spreading and gaining notice. As success stories travel and inspire other communities to ask how they can do the same thing, they’re multiplying faster than ever.
These locally owned networks are poised to do what federal and state governments and the marketplace couldn’t. One, they can bring affordable access to fast internet to anyone, narrowing the digital divide that deepens individual and regional socioeconomic disparities.
Two, these small operators can protect open internet access from the handful of large ISPs that stand to pocket the profits from net neutrality rollbacks that the Trump administration announced Nov. 21. That’s according to Christopher Mitchell, who is the director of Community Broadband Projects, a project of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Mitchell, who has been tracking and advocating community-owned broadband networks for a decade, hopes that this will be the moment when people rebel against the administration’s attack on net neutrality and expand rural cooperative and municipal ISPs.