What do you really know about the way the Internet works?
How did it get to you?
Who built the infrastructure behind it?
Who makes decisions about its future?
These are some of the questions Center for Public Integrity reporter Allan Holmes wanted to answer recently when he traveled to Tullahoma, Tennessee, and Fayetteville, North Carolina, for Reveal radio.
Jared Bennett: So Allan, what is it about the telecommunications industry that’s interesting to an investigative reporter?
Allan Holmes: Well on first blush it probably isn’t that interesting but you’ve got to realize these are some of the largest corporations in the world. They also give some of the largest amounts of money to campaigns; they spend some of the largest amount of money in lobbying. AT&T, Comcast and Verizon spend millions and millions of dollars, so they have a lot of influence. But I think what interests me even as much as that is that these corporations control the information we use to live our everyday lives and how we make decisions based on that information.
And this is only going to become more important and they’re going to become more powerful as the Internet of things evolves, which means that everything will have its own URL, even your light bulbs, and we run almost every facet of our lives on the Internet. So this is really important stuff.
JB: What makes the Internet interesting in cities like Fayetteville, North Carolina, and Tullahoma, Tennessee, where you visited and this story’s focus is on?
AH: We looked at these two cities, first of all Tullahoma has a broadband network, Fayetteville has fiber optic cable network underneath the ground but they can’t use it. So you have one city that has broadband and can give it to the residents and businesses and another one that doesn’t, Fayetteville, N.C. So we wanted to juxtapose these two cities. The other thing that’s interesting, and this actually happened after we went to these two cities back in the summer when we first started reporting this, is that Wilson, North Carolina, filed a petition to the FCC and Chattanooga filed a petition to the FCC asking the FCC to preempt the state laws that are holding them back from expanding their own city-wide broadband networks, so there’s even an added interest at that level.
JB: Right, in Tullahoma, they have this high speed Internet, but not everyone in the area can access that, is that right?
AH: That’s right. The state law in Tennessee basically says that if you have a municipal broadband network you can’t expand beyond the boundaries. And this is typically into more rural areas but even into subdivisions, and you go to these subdivisions and they look like any subdivision outside of a major city.