But if you look at the metropolitan Phoenix area, there are quite a few competing consumer broadband providers, e.g.:
* Qwest, the Regional Bell Operating Company formerly known as U.S. West, provides DSL services (as well as higher bandwidth wired connections from fractional T1 and up, and I think they still offer ISDN). This is one of the evil telcos that is enemy number one for many net neutrality advocates.
* Covad, a DSL provider that uses Qwest's last-mile network in Phoenix. In 2003 Covad acquired all of Qwest's business DSL customers, and it appears that they will or have exited the consumer broadband market--however, they can provide business-class DSL service to my residence (which is interesting because Qwest says they can't). Covad is also actively pursuing WiBro (wireless broadband, a Korean standard) and WiMax (wireless broadband, an Intel standard that will now be compatible with WiBro).
* Cox Communications, a cable company, provides cable modem services. (They also have higher speed connections for businesses.) Cox has done very well in recent years in taking away customers from Qwest for voice telephone services, as well as out-competing Qwest's DSL offering for consumer Internet access. I currently use Cox Business Services to my home.
* Cable America, a competing cable company, provides cable modem services in parts of the east Valley. (UPDATE May 27, 2006: As Douglas Ross (directorblue) has pointed out, Cox entered into an agreement to acquire Cable America in January 2006, so this doesn't really count as an independent broadband provider.)
* Sprint Broadband, a long distance and wireless provider, offers a point-to-point wireless broadband service (previously People's Choice, which Sprint acquired). Sprint also offers EV-DO mobile wireless service.
* Alltel, a wireless provider, offers EV-DO mobile wireless service (which is actually using Sprint's EV-DO network).
* Verizon Wireless, a wireless provider, offers EV-DO (3G) mobile wireless service.
* HughesNet, a satellite-based wireless provider (previously DirecWay, and DirecPC before that), offers satellite connectivity (with high latency as a drawback imposed by the laws of physics).
* City of Tempe municipal wireless service, provided and managed by NeoReach. Similar service is being deployed to the City of Chandler, also by NeoReach.
There are no doubt others I've missed--if you're willing to pay for business service, many providers can get that service to your home, which includes services like a T1 connection (where your provider, if not Qwest, will have to pay monthly local loop charges to Qwest and pass that along in your bill) and may include other sources of wireless service. When I had a Global Crossing T1 to my home, the local loop costs were slightly over $200/mo--consumer broadband, by contrast, costs substantially less for more bandwidth, at least in the downstream direction, when delivered to a residence. On the other hand, bandwidth costs in a colo facility can be as low as $10/Mbit/mo, in quantity, i.e., $1000/mo for a 100Mbps Ethernet port. You pay more per Mbit to get data to your residence because of the costs of getting the data out to all those residences and the overhead of dealing with a lot more customers whose individual bills are much smaller than those of a business, and who, on the average, need a lot more hand-holding and support.
Salt River Project, a power generation and transmission company (and a water delivery/irrigation company) that operates in Phoenix, also has about 1,000 route-miles of fiber throughout the city. It resells its excess capacity to businesses (including Qwest) from the entity SRP Telecom. I don't know if they would ever consider using their network to provide consumer services themselves, but there's clearly the potential for a consumer broadband provider to purchase capacity on their network in order to move data around the city.
In Phoenix, if one provider decided to start blocking access to or degrading certain kinds of services that their customers want, there are multiple alternative options. Any provider that engaged in such behavior would see an increase in churn, to the benefit of its competition.
UPDATE (May 27, 2006): Douglas Ross (directorblue) has called this list "bogus" and claimed that only two of the options (Qwest and Cox) actually count. He dismisses Covad because it uses Qwest last-mile wires, but goes on to say, inconsistently, that he would count other cable resellers if the Brand X decision had gone the other way and providers like Cox were forced to enter into relationships like Covad has with Qwest. My observation is that if those reseller relationships exist and the reseller provides access to its own Internet network, then that is enough to foster a competitive environment. It doesn't matter whether it's government-mandated, it matters whether it exists. Doug rejects all the wireless options out of hand on the grounds of Verizon's EVDO terms-of-service. (His section about why WiMax isn't viable doesn't actually discuss WiMax at all, only EVDO terms-of-service.) He misses the point that Sprint Broadband and Sprint EVDO are *two different services*--he doesn't actually give a reason to reject Sprint Broadband. He says he doesn't understand why I put the City of Tempe's municipal WiFi network in the list--I did so because Tempe is right in the middle of the Phoenix metropolitan area (and noted Chandler's metro WiFi in-development, which is just south of Tempe, for the same reason). These are real options for people moving to the Phoenix area and for anyone who is willing to move to get different broadband service. (And certainly broadband options in an area are an important factor in choosing a place to live.) Finally, he rejects HughesNet because it is unsuitable for VOIP or P2P. At least he doesn't say that HughesNet should be mandated to change the laws of physics in order to provide those services under net neutrality.
Doug's position on net neutrality appears to be that nothing counts as broadband unless it supports every application he wants to use (even though the proposed net neutrality bills count anything as broadband that is greater than 200kbps in one direction--they don't restrict it to wireline services), and that whoever builds an infrastructure capable of supporting what he wants has to provide it to him, without recovering the costs of that infrastructure by charging any third parties. But I bet he also is unwilling to pay an unsubsidized rate to use such a service.