Marsha Blackburn Rushes To The Defense Of Awful, Protectionist State Broadband Laws

from the stop-pretending-you're-helping dept

While net neutrality justifiably received a ton of press attention last week, we were quick to point out that the FCC’s other major decision — to start attacking protectionist state broadband laws — may just be a bigger deal. These twenty or so laws, as we’ve explored in detail, are written and lobbied for by incumbent ISPs and prohibit towns and cities from deciding for themselves what they should be able to do regarding local telecom infrastructure. If you realize that neutrality violations are just a symptom of a lack of competition, the FCC’s decision to start dismantling the onerous parts of these laws strikes much deeper at the root of the problem.

Make no mistake: these laws are the worst sort of protectionism. And despite ISP attempts to make this a partisan issue, most municipal broadband deployments are being approved by Republican voters in Conservative areas. Similarly, Democrats and Republicans alike realize that letting AT&T or Comcast write a law that tells you what you can or can’t do (and in some cases even eliminates eminent domain rights) only benefits AT&T and Comcast. Municipal broadband is an organic, community reaction to the telecom market failure they’re “enjoying” on a daily basis.

That’s why it’s been amusing to see Marsha Blackburn rushing to the defense of the ISPs and these bills, breathlessly trying to argue that she’s just terribly, terribly concerned about states’ rights. Almost immediately after the FCC’s vote to limit the reach of such laws in Tennessee and North Carolina, Blackburn and Senator Thom Tillis introduced the “States’ Rights Municipal Broadband Act of 2015 (pdf),” which would amend the Telecommunications Act to strip back FCC authority over states when it comes to timely broadband deployment.

Both Blackburn’s and Tillis’ states have passed laws that have prevented municipal broadband deployments from expanding and encroaching on the territories of companies like AT&T, CenturyLink, Time Warner Cable and Comcast. EPB Broadband (in Tennessee) and Greenlight (in North Carolina) petitioned the FCC for help in removing state-level barriers to deployment after a decade of FCC apathy to the issue. According to a statement on Blackburn’s website, she’s not blindly protecting her state’s broadband duopoly, she’s protecting locals from the FCC’s vile assault on their freedom:

“I?m pleased to be working with Senator Tillis on this important issue. As former state legislators, we strongly believe in States? rights and will fight the FCC?s liberal agenda. Chairman Wheeler?s regulatory appetite appears to know no bounds and is seeping dangerously into the lives of Americans. It is time for Congress to assert itself and protect States once again from unelected Washington bureaucrats.”

Just so we’re clear: letting AT&T and Comcast write awful state law that strips away “states’ rights” to the sole benefit of their monopoly revenues is perfectly fine. But the FCC using its legal authority to restore those same rights — is a frontal assault on states’ rights? Blackburn and Tillis are actually trying to dress up duopoly protectionism as some form of noble ethos in a particularly blistering wave of nonsensical hubris.

Blackburn’s effort is unlikely to go anywhere, in part because even the ISPs that write these laws don’t want to be publicly associated with them. You’ll notice that while many large ISPs felt free to complain about net neutrality rules, most of them remained mute on the FCC’s municipal broadband decision — largely because buying protectionist state law is nearly impossible to coherently defend (as Tillis and Blackburn so deftly illustrate). Both Comcast and AT&T have mergers awaiting FCC review, so any full-throated support for keeping U.S. broadband uncompetitive will have to remain the purview of disingenuous intermediaries.

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Comments on “Marsha Blackburn Rushes To The Defense Of Awful, Protectionist State Broadband Laws”

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dave blevins (profile) says:

Re: Re:

How ’bout a condition that they spin off all content creation, e.g. NBC, Golf Channel, now and forever. This makes them a carrier only and should allow all comers to use their transport.

I’ve always wondered why cable companies pay content providers for the right to carry content and not vice versa.

Seems to me the content providers should be the side paying.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A million times this. From my point of view, this is the second-largest problem with how broadband works in the US (the largest problem is the lack of a competitive market).

It seems obvious to me that providing content and providing internet service should not done by the same company. There’s simply far too much conflict of interest involved.

Tanner Andrews (profile) says:

Re: [conditions of merger]

[condition merger appoval on agreement not to lobby]
including the support of bills and laws in their jurisdiction

Fails. You cannot impose an unconstitutional condition in order to permit or license exercise of another. Aptheker v. Secretary of State, 378 U.S. 500 (US 1964).

You would ask them to choose between the exercise of rights of speech and rights to associate in commerce.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Does anyone have any information on how much money these politicians have received from cable and telecom companies (including front-groups)?

Even more important, is it possible to track how much Blackburn and Tillis get for this obvious and transparent shill attempt to get some cash into their currently empty campaign chests, so we can send their contributors to jail at the same time?

Blackburn and Tillis, selling out their constituents to deep pocketed, corporate, monopolistic special interests since … forever, to keep the vicious and obnoxious nanny state regulators from queering individual freedoms in the capitalist holy land. Politicians should be sent to prison for soliciting bribery as transparently as this. They don’t even try to hide what they’re doing.

Meanwhile, everyone goes back to sleep because, no biggie, this is just how it’s done these days; SOP.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

In addition to the eye-catching big-name corporations, a great deal of political money can be funnelled in through innocuous-sounding front groups. It creates a bit more investigative work for critics when donations are made by “Citizens for a Better Tomorrow” or “Veterans for Truth” or whatever else. And even more digging when these stealth-funders are buying advertising for “Swiftboating” campaigns or conducting stealth “Astroturfing” or anything else that leaves no paper trail to easily follow.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Completely unrelated I'm sure...

Marsha Blackburn

Top 20 Contributors to Campaign Cmte and Leadership PAC

Ranked by donation amount 2013-2014
#2 AT&T Inc – $25,000
#5 Comcast Corp – $20,000
#5(tied) National Cable & Telecommunications Assn – $20,000
#10 Verizon Communications – $16,000

Ranked by donation amount 2011-2012
#4 Verizon Communications – $15,400
#5 Comcast Corp – $15,000
#5(tied) National Cable & Telecommunications Assn – $15,000
#12 AT&T Inc – $13,250


tqk (profile) says:

Re: Completely unrelated I'm sure...

I’m always astounded by how little they go for. What’s a state-wide ISP’s infrastructure worth? I’d guess in the tens of millions of dollars, yet that first list isn’t even $100k, and the second one is far less. Blackburn, just like all the rest, are pretty “cheap tricks.” She sells you out for mere peanuts. Makes you wonder if they even bother to stay for the whole night.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Re: Completely unrelated I'm sure...

You have to remember that the above amounts are only the totals of the disclosed “Campaign Contributions” and do not reflect in any way the amount of graft each one receives as indirect deposits in their off-shore and Swiss accounts, or the amount they receive through NGOs and other affiliated, but apparently disparate organizations, during the course of each year.

Graft is probably as much as 80% of a politicians total income these days.

They have to be laughing their collective asses off at how the public is actually paying them to do this job.

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Completely unrelated I'm sure...

Right, politicians are all crooked. So why would anyone think city councils are less corrupt than state legislatures, or, God forbid, crony appointees to a federal regulator would be less corrupt than elected officials?

Just trying to make sure I’m being irrational and inconsistent in the approved manner.

Mason Wheeler (profile) says:

Just so we’re clear: letting AT&T and Comcast write awful state law that strips away “states’ rights” to the sole benefit of their monopoly revenues is perfectly fine. But the FCC using its legal authority to restore those same rights — is a frontal assault on states’ rights? Blackburn and Tillis are actually trying to dress up duopoly protectionism as some form of noble ethos in a particularly blistering wave of nonsensical hubris.

What? Our noble States Rights proponent–born and raised in Mississippi, currently serving as a Senator for the state of Tennessee–is simply carrying on a proud tradition that’s most likely been in her family for 150 years or more!

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Re: As it does

OK, muni broadband does struggle to survive, that’s why Google was able to buy iProvo for a buck, Lafayette is drowning in red ink, and Cedar Falls had its bond rating downgraded.

Thanks for pointing that out.

BTW, California doesn’t permit muni builds without a referendum because of Prop 13, passed in 1978 in a statewide referendum. Clearly, the majority of California voters are cable lobbyists.

Zonker says:

Re: Re: As it does

Cable internet service didn’t even exist in 1978. You are speaking of a referendum on cable television service, which is a whole different beast entirely.

California is where most of the media producers (Hollywood) come from, so it’s no surprise they would want protectionist law on cable television networks.

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: As it does

Nope, Prop 13 was a voter initiative on runaway taxes. It also requires cities to hold referenda before building schools and libraries.

According to TechDirt, broadband TV, phone, and Internet networks should not have to jump the same hurdles that all other debt issues face. Because, you know, the Internet is more special than phone networks, even though it has to be regulated as if it were a phone network because Comcast has bad customer service.

After five phone calls to the government to register a new car today I’m reminded that government’s customer service is much worse.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 As it does

That’s what this post says. Or “implies”, when you put state broadband laws in context with other state laws on municipal debt.

Can you provide a specific quote or quotes that says that? Because I didn’t see any implication that municipal broadband should get special treatment. Quite the opposite in fact: it should be treated the same as any other project, rather than being hamstrung or banned by ISP-authored state laws.

Richard Bennett (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:5 As it does

This is a good illustration of how Bode in particular and TechDirt in general misleads readers. Bode says: “These twenty or so laws, as we’ve explored in detail, are written and lobbied for by incumbent ISPs and prohibit towns and cities from deciding for themselves what they should be able to do regarding local telecom infrastructure.” Thus, he claims that 20 (or so) state have passed laws protecting private broadband networks at the best of ISP lobbyists. When we look at the “detailed” examination, Bode mentions only one state, Kansas, and claims “more than a dozen states” are protecting ISPs. For reference, he cites a blog written by Jon Brodkin, someone who is actually less credible than Bode. Brodkin simply re-writes a list provided by the ISLR, a consulting company that advises local governments on how to build their own networks.

The fact is that the “more than a dozen” or “twenty or so” laws that restrict local government entry in broadband span a wide range of conditions. Four states require local referenda; these include Colorado and Iowa, two states in which a number of such referenda have passed. Cedar Falls Iowa passed one, and 6 of 7 Colorado cities passed such referenda in November. So these laws aren’t protecting capitalist firms as much as they’re protecting tax payers.

In five other states, laws simply give current operators the right of first refusal for new networks, and six states have laws requiring public hearings, feasibility studies or written business plans, things that should be done anyway.

In other words, the article is false and misleading from the title all the way through to the last word, and it’s only purpose is to raise your ire by making you believe a conservative Congressman in the pocket of the ISPs is out to deprive you of your freedom. And to keep you coming back for more manufactured outrage.

Any law we don’t like is passed by lobbyists, and any law we do like is passed by appointed shills at the FCC.

Isn’t democracy grand?

Alex says:

Damn those liberals!

Man, I love my “comcast” cable, damn those socialist liberals, you know I don’t mind paying an extra $50 a month or pay 3x from my lovely comcast,charter,cox,internet.

You know its never comcast’s fault if I get modem outages, it’s the government fault, or obama’s fault you know.

I mean come on, police,fire,army,water,sanitation, I mean you know I’m tired of socialism, I vote for the Time Warner/Comcast GOP!

You know there is competition right, yeah Obama’s interfering with the free market, we have aah satellite, yes low caps and over $100 a month, wireless, oh yes caps, and $200 a month for the whole family.

To be fair there were certain democrats who got paid off by the telcos including clyburn’s family? But its all Obama’s fault. I mean we don’t have a problem with massive defense spending, federal criminal laws, but obama’s fcc, yes.

Should the folks in California demand taxes to anyone in middle america who uses facebook,google,etc, that’s why we have the feds.

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