What Has The FCC Done To Actually Encourage Competition?
from the can't-walk-the-walk dept
For the better part of a decade, we’ve been arguing that the main problem with broadband in the US, and the main reason we remain so far behind many other countries, is the stunning lack of competition. The broadband field is dominated by just a few players, and they always seem to be consolidating, rather than leading to new competition. In fact, we’ve seen that when competition decreases, the efforts to expand broadband suddenly seem to go away. Competition drives better broadband. It really is that simple. The FCC has been paying lip service to this idea for years, but has never actually done anything. The latest is that it’s launched a Connect2Compete program. Yes, it has the word “compete” in there, but an analysis of the plan shows that it’s got absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with actual competition.
Much of the plan is an attempt to reform the absolute boondoggle that is the Universal Service Fund — a mysterious fund with little oversight that often just seems to end up propping up telcos’ bottom lines rather than leading to anything like universal service. Fixing the USF would be a good idea, but apparently the “plan” doesn’t look like it’ll do anything useful:
The primary thrust of the project involves the agency’s plan for USF reform, the specifics of which have yet to be fully disclosed but are believed to be largely pulled from AT&T and Verizon lobbyist recommendations. The FCC’s “Connect to Compete” website insists this reform could net “$1 billion or more per year in benefits for wireless consumers alone.” However, unmentioned is the fact the plan will likely drive up prices for consumer broadband bills by raising the cap on USF fees charged by carriers above $6.50 per month.
What would consumers get for this money? Digging into the telco’s USF plan, there’s absolutely nothing there that suggests serious broadband expansion beyond what they’d already planned with upcoming LTE efforts. There’s also absolutely nothing to suggest the FCC has a handle on auditing the USF and e-Rate program. $25 billion has been poured into large and small telco coffers over the years (in addition to billions in additional subsidies), and yet somehow our libraries still lack adequate bandwidth.
Readers should be able to conclude where most of this money actually went. Ignored by the FCC and the press is the fact that all the state and federal subsidies doled out to phone companies by now could have easily wired every U.S. home with fiber to the home several times over. AT&T and Verizon should not be getting another penny in government subsidies, yet the FCC’s USF reform will almost-certainly involve additional handouts you’ll be paying for in the form of higher broadband bills.
So there we are. No effort at increased competition and better broadband. But higher fees going into a boondoggle fund that will almost certainly end up in the coffers of our two largest (and super profitable) telco companies.