Gigi Sohn laughs at incumbents’ argument against community broadband

In May, Gigi Sohn accepted a position as the first executive director of the American Association for Public Broadband (AAPB). And she’s wasting no time advocating for cities that want to build municipal broadband networks.

Recently, she penned an op-ed for The Salt Lake Tribune, slamming Comcast and Lumen Technologies for funding dark-money groups that oppose community-owned broadband. Specifically, Sohn called out these incumbents for fighting a municipal broadband effort in Bountiful City, Utah.

“When given the opportunity in 2020, before anyone else, to provide Bountiful City with affordable and robust broadband, the companies balked. So the dominant cable companies not only don’t want to provide the service Bountiful City needs, they also want to block others from doing so,” wrote Sohn.

Fierce Telecom caught up with Sohn yesterday to discuss community broadband.

Sohn’s hope is that the incumbents that oppose community broadband will come to realize that there are better business opportunities for them to support the concept rather than fight it. For instance, they could have bid on the project in Bountiful City, rather than use shadowy tactics to try and kill it.

For decades, these incumbents have argued that taxpayer dollars should not be used to compete against their private investments. In response to that, Sohn said, “I’m sorry to laugh. But please name me one big company that doesn’t take a dime of taxpayer’s money.”

She said many of the incumbents that fight municipal broadband get billions of dollars from programs such as the Universal Service Fund (USF), the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) and the Capital Projects fund.

Now, the incumbents, along with new players, are licking their lips at the prospect of billions of dollars from the government's Broadband, Equity and Deployment (BEAD) program to build broadband networks to unserved locations.

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Some of their old knee-jerk tactics of using lobbyists and lawyers to fight municipal broadband may have to change as they begin to actively compete for broadband projects all around the country,

“I think it will change with BEAD,” said Sohn. “There’s only so many places that need to be wired. There will come a point where there isn’t an opportunity to build greenfield. The only opportunity will be to actually compete.”

She said she would love to see incumbents “lay down their arms” against community broadband and see the future as a competitive business opportunity.