Presidential Hopeful Marco Rubio Defends AT&T's Right To Write Bad State Broadband Law

from the this-outrage-was-brought-to-you-by-AT&T dept

While it was overshadowed by the net neutrality debate, the FCC’s decision last February to attack state protectionist broadband laws was notably more important. For fifteen years, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable have used groups like ALEC to pass laws in more than 20 states hindering or outright preventing towns and cities from building their own broadband networks — even in cases of pure market failure where incumbent ISPs refused to. In some states, towns are even prohibited from striking public/private broadband partnerships.

In the FCC’s February 3-2 decision, the FCC took specific aim at two such laws in Tennessee and North Carolina, after municipal broadband providers there stated they were unable to expand due to these laws. By the FCC’s logic, the laws (which by any definition are pure protectionism) run afoul of the agency’s authority under Section 706 of the Telecom Act to ensure even and timely deployment of broadband access. Since again, these laws protect nothing but the pocketbooks of giant, lazy telecom incumbents, it was a good and overdue call, and largely overlooked by the press.

Of course standing up to lobbying powerhouses like AT&T comes with a price, and ever since the FCC’s vote it has been attacked by ISP-funded allies in Congress like Marsha Blackburn, who breathlessly assailed the FCC’s decision as an assault on states’ rights. You’ll notice that nowhere is concern expressed by folks like Blackburn about how states were quite literally letting the highest bidder write the god-damned law.

Fast forward to this week, when Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and seven other state freedom lovin’ Congressmen wrote a letter to the FCC (pdf) scolding the agency for daring stand up to AT&T. In the letter, Rubio and friends accuse the FCC of “choosing winners and losers” in the broadband race:

“…The FCC is promoting government-owned networks at the possible expense of private sector broadband providers — both incumbents and competitors — who have made strides to deploy networks throughout the country. Municipal broadband networks not only run the risk of overbuilding existing private networks, they could also result in the loss of limited universal service funds for carriers who are delivering broadband to rural Americans. The FCC should not be in the business of choosing winners and losers in the competitive broadband marketplace.”

Of course that’s nonsense. The only one picking winners and losers here are ISP lobbyists, who are preventing towns and cities from making local infrastructure decisions for themselves. And it’s worth repeating that these towns and cities wouldn’t be considering building their own networks (or begging private partners like Google or Tucows to do it) if they were happy with the broadband service they receive from the nations pampered incumbents. While there’s pockets of competition, by and large US broadband is a story of regulatory capture and market failure, and community broadband is a very healthy, organic response to that.

And while Rubio, like Blackburn, pretends to be worried about broadband coverage and states rights, The Intercept highlights the Rubio campaign’s very close ties to none other than AT&T:

“Rubio?s presidential campaign has relied heavily on AT&T lobbyist Scott Weaver, the public policy co-chair of Wiley Rein, a law firm that also is helping to litigate against the FCC?s effort to help municipal broadband. As one of Rubio?s three lobbyist-bundlers, Weaver raised $33,324 for Rubio?s presidential campaign, according to disclosures.

Rubio?s campaign fundraising apparatus is also managed in part by Cesar Conda, a lobbyist who previously served as Rubio?s chief of staff. Registration documents show that Conda now represents AT&T.”

Funny, that. In other words, Rubio took time out from campaign fund raising to defend AT&T’s right to write horrible state broadband law that not only makes U.S. broadband worse — but strips local communities of their rights. Being able to decide for yourself what your community should and shouldn’t be able to do is a very non-partisan idea. Unfortunately, like net neutrality, municipal broadband has been quite intentionally polluted by partisan bickering in an attempt to stall progress for the sole benefit of a few, deep-pocketed companies. Companies that wouldn’t be facing a grass-roots broadband revolution if they were motivated and willing to offer faster, better broadband service in the first place.

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Comments on “Presidential Hopeful Marco Rubio Defends AT&T's Right To Write Bad State Broadband Law”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Let's fix that for accuracy, shall we?

“… Companies like AT&T are promoting privately-owned networks at the possible expense of public sector broadband providers — both incumbents and competitors — who have attempted, in the face of privately written anti-competition laws to deploy networks throughout the country. Municipal broadband networks not only run the risk of competing with existing private networks, they could also result in the loss of excessive and extreme profits for carriers who are delivering, theoretically, and only when they feel they have to, broadband to rural Americans. Private companies and the politicians they’ve bought should not be in the business of choosing winners and losers in the not even close to competitive broadband marketplace.”

clemahieu (profile) says:

Sounds like we gave the government the reigns of broadband and now that people are on to the next issue, the industry establishment is sweeping in for regulatory capture.

This is why many didn’t want federal involvement in broadband, not because established industry does a good job, but because people don’t pay attention and giving them more legal authority is worse.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The problem was that there really wasn’t any other option available. We either had the FCC step in and at least try and do something about the more obvious abuses caused by the monopoly/duopoly that was in a majority of the market, or the government stayed out of it, and we got more of the same, which would guarantee that things just got worse.

Would it have been nice if the government didn’t need to step in, with the market on it’s own keeping the more blatant abuses of power down? Sure, but that was tried, and it clearly wasn’t working.

Anonymous Coward says:

If they are so in favor of state independence will they repeal federal protectionist laws such as patents and copy protections? What about the federal binding arbitration laws that corporations managed to pass. Or corporate sovereignty that corporations keep trying to pass/expand. Or tariffs and embargoes and federal boycott restrictions. It seems the federal government is only concerned with state independence when it’s to the benefit of corporations.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Or anti-circumvention and trade secret laws. Or the FCC broadcasting laws that allocate broadcasting spectra exclusivity to corporate interests. Or laws on drones that need to be registered. The war on drugs. The federal government has a laundry list of laws that interfere with state sovereignty many of which are protectionist. If the federal government wants to pretend that not opposing state protectionist laws is about state sovereignty then the least they can do is be consistent and repeal federal protectionist laws that work against state sovereignty.

Anonymous Coward says:

The usual bluster about trying to prevent something they don’t understand and refusing to provide any sort of alternative or acceptable cost.

Empty-minded platitudes and meaningless accusations. Nothing more. Pure Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt.

If “State Independence” is so inviolably important that they can’t even imagine a cost for living without it, perhaps they shouldn’t be in the running for federal government?

Anonymous Anonymous Coward says:

A different kind of fundraising

“…Rubio took time out from campaign fund raising…”

He didn’t take time out from fund raising, he is blatantly telling AT&T that he is ripe for more contributions. It is possible that what AT&T will provide would be greater than whatever he could get out of a dozen rubber chicken dinners with small contributors.

Klaus says:

Re: Re:

I don’t know Marco Rubio, but it’s a near universal truth that politicians spin. The funnier ones are those that think they are masters of the spin, who expect people to automatically believe what they say. Less funny are those who actually believe their own spin. I mean, at the end of the day, Hitler was a politician…

Anonymous Coward says:

considering the size of the USA and the piss poor quality of it’s broadband for speed, consistency and reliability, i find it rather amazing that ANY politician, unless financially ‘encouraged’ could actually say anything good about any of the broadband companies, particularly when those politicians are supposed to be on the side of freedom and innovation. Rubio would do well to keep his trap shut unless his whole aim is to lose his position!

Robert Beckman (profile) says:

Market Failure

This isn’t a case of market failure. This is a case of regulatory failure.

Just because there’s a (heavily regulated) market that doesn’t deliver doesn’t mean that the market failed – it usually means the opposite, that the market was prevented from working by regulation, which led to failure.

Just because the regulation was by one entity (the state) and it’s being overridden by another entity (the FCC) doesn’t mean it’s not caused by a regulatory failure.

To see this, consider this thought experiment: If there were no regulations preventing competition, would we see competitors who couldn’t enter the market? Of course not – the regulatory restrictions are the problem, not the market.

W. Vann Hall (profile) says:

a lousy, albeit workable, approach

Having spent the past two summers in the town where ZI was born, some 3,500 miles and at least 35 years distant from the place I now call home, I was happy to learn I was not wrong to have left the first moment I could. At the same time, though, I am a bit envious of the connectivity my mother should soon be enjoying, thanks to nDanville’s FTTH (which I suspect is actually FTTP) offerings. While it’s an approach heavily dependent upon extraordinary funding — as far as I can tell, the only growth industries still left in Danville are the leveraging of grants and tax credits earmerked for areas of high unemployment and the retail sale of Confederate flags — the nDanville model did allow the whole public/private controversy to be sidestepped. In brief, the city owns and operates the fiber infrastructure which ISPs and other third parties can use to provide access and services; a portion of each customer’s monthly bill is paid to the city for use of its network.

It’s far from a perfect solution. While all of the city’s business districts are fiber-ready, to date only the two most affluent residential neighborhoods have been or are being connected. Further, there are undoubtedly economic inefficiencies introduced by the public/private divide. And, of course, the true cost of connectivity has been buried in layers of grants and subsidies.

Still, starting next month my mother should be able to enjoy 100/25 Mbps service for less than $80 a month — or cable, internet, and phone for roughly 60% of what she currently pays for all three, plus a 200x increase in bandwidth. All this in a city where, 15 years ago, I could easily monitor my parents’ visits to my company’s web site as the inbound dial-up rotary only contained 8 ports….

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