Connected Nation: National Broadband Policy Or Big Telco Front?

from the questions-questions dept

For years, we’ve pointed out that, unlike most every other nation these days, the US lacks any sort of comprehensive broadband policy. Whether or not you think that’s a good thing may depend on your perspective — even among free market supporters. If you believe that broadband is a national infrastructure question involving a natural monopoly (a la the highway system) then it’s a shame that there’s no national broadband system that allows competition at the service level. If, instead, you think that broadband is not a natural monopoly then perhaps competition at the infrastructure level makes sense, even if it decreases competition at the service level. However, there’s definitely been a lot of clamoring from folks that the US needs a national broadband policy. For years, the big telcos have resisted this push, often with incredibly misleading statements about how the government needs to keep its “hands off” their network. That’s misleading because they leave out how much of that infrastructure was subsidized by the government — whether through direct subsidies, grants of rights of way or tax breaks.

Either way, it appears that the telcos have recognized that they need to get behind a “national broadband policy” before one is handed to them — so they’ve created their own, called Connected Nation. We discussed this back in February, when there was some question about whether Connected Nation really was a reasonable policy or just a front for the telcos. One of the biggest problems? The more you look at Connected Nation, the more difficult it is to figure out what it actually does. Broadband Reports is taking a look at the problems with Connected Nation, noting that the big telcos are all claiming that it represents a good national broadband policy, but that’s hardly supported by the details.

For example, Connected Nation’s broadband plan doesn’t seem to involve anything resembling consumer advocates, or any objective look at ways to get broadband to those not served by it. But what does Connected Nation actually do? Basically tells the rest of the government that everything is groovy and not to do anything. Officially it takes taxpayer money to create its own questionable maps about broadband penetration, most of which come back showing that there’s plenty of broadband penetration (nothing to see here, move along now). Then it sends out marketing material to local leaders about the importance of broadband — effectively advertising incumbent telco broadband offerings with taxpayer money. Whether or not you support a national broadband policy, this seems pretty questionable all around. It seems to just divert taxpayer money to broadband advertising, without doing much to actually improve broadband.

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Companies: connected nation

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Comments on “Connected Nation: National Broadband Policy Or Big Telco Front?”

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Alex Scrivener (profile) says:

National Policy might be a bad idea

I must say I am not a fan of “National Policy” on anything. Regulations preventing new service from launching need to be removed, but I am a radical enough person to be in favor of privatizing the highways, too, so take that as you will. One idea I have heard is a small community (town, subdivision, apartment building, whatever) wiring itself with fiber, and then allow providers to lease access on the network, kind of like the phone system. One wire, but you can switch long distance providers at will. “National Policy” worries me, though. If a town or apartment screws up a service like that, people will leave or demand something different. On a national level bad decisions will be set in stone, and with so much money at stake the big players will do everything to twist the Policy to their advantage, screwing the customer.

Drew Clark (user link) says:

A Public Broadband Census

Whether or not Connected Nation is serving the public, it is important for TechDirt readers to know about an alternative: We are attempting to collect, from consumers, information about broadband availability, but also competition (by linking broadband data to broadband providers), as well as broadband speeds and quality of service. Check us out and Take the Broadband Census.

Jane Smith Patterson says:

Comments on Connected Nation

It is important that we have a national broadband policy. For this reason, North Carolina’s e-nc Authority asked Baller & Herbst to work with us to do a really valid study on what is available out there in our country and how we compare with the rest of the world and what proposals would be interesting for us to undertake for our second go around at seeing that every household in NC has access to the broadband Internet and that digital inclusion efforts are being really developed. Please look at our web site at the Capturing the Promise of Broadband for NC and America.
We hope that all states will be working towards guaranteeing that their citizens have access and that the prices are affordable for access. States themselves must take on the bully pulpit for this effort but the Federal Government also has a roll to play. Really valid information for decision making is necessary in whatever mapping program we determine is best for each state and the country. Being 15th or 2nd best in access to broadband infrastructure for our citizens will not make our country able to compete in an information economy effectively. We must not be sipping from an Internet pipe that is 10, 20 or 100xs smaller than our competitor nation’s infrastructure. Person who can not afford the access must also be assisted similar to how the Life Line Link Up Program of the FCC worked with spreading telephone access to persons who were unable to pay the going price. We should look at that Uinversal Services Corporation program.

Mike Weisman (user link) says:

Connection btw CN and state bills

I recently uncovered a connection between Connected Nation, Progressive States Networks, and their effort to pass state bills against mapping. In Washington State, PSN (financed with telco and CWA $$), got Jeanne Kohl-Welles, a Democratic state senator, to pass one of their bills. This bill is a mapping bill…except that they can’t require data from the telcos, and can’t release their data to the public because it is deemed proprietary. The bill is a template being pedaled by PSN to Demo state legislators to try and abort consumer-driven mapping bills. Here’s the kicker: the project will collect data from the public, and then ‘propertize’ it by making it secret. And all with tax dollars. I questioned Kohl-Welles at the NMRC about this bill. She said that no bill can be passed without telco support, so this is better than nothing.
Of course, she is absolutely wrong about this. As another reader noted, the effect of the bill will be to say that the mapping issue has been taken care of, and that ‘there’s nothing to see here, move along.’ Thank you TechDirt for uncovering this threat to high-speed Internet freedom, and uncovering the shadowy ways of the telecom oligarchs.

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