States Wake Up, Realize AT&T Lobbyists Have Been Writing Awful Protectionist State Broadband Laws

from the pure-protectionism dept

For more than fifteen years now, companies like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink have quite literally paid state legislatures to write protectionist broadband laws. These laws, passed in around 20 states, protect the incumbent duopoly from the faintest specter of broadband competition — by preventing towns and cities from either building their own broadband networks, or from striking public/private partnerships to improve lagging broadband networks. They’re the worst sort of protectionism, written by ISPs and pushed by ALEC and ISP lobbyists to do one thing: protect industry revenues.

Despite the fact the laws strip away citizen rights to decide local infrastructure matters for themselves (because really, who better to decide your town’s needs than AT&T or Comcast executives), ISPs for more than a decade managed to forge division by framing this as a partisan issue. But then something changed: companies like Google Fiber and Tucows began highlighting how public/private partnerships are actually a great way to fill in the broadband gaps left by an apathetic, uncompetitive broadband duopoly.

After fifteen years of napping, the FCC also jumped into the fray and began fighting these laws in two states (Tennessee and North Carolina), arguing they hindered the FCC’s mandate to ensure even and speedy broadband deployment. The broadband industry responded by having loyal politicians like Marsha Blackburn run to defend these bills, purportedly “outraged” by the FCC’s “assault on states’ rights” (please note that incumbent ISPs being allowed to write horrible state telecom law did not cause the slightest offense).

And with a brighter spotlight being shined on these laws, the partisan division encouraged by the broadband industry is mysteriously beginning to fade away. In Tennessee, lawmakers have been pushing a law that would dismantle AT&T’s version of the law in that state, which has stopped a popular Chattanooga municipal gigabit provider (EPB) from expanding. Lawmakers pushing the bill appear to now be realizing just how destructive AT&T’s lobbying apparatus has been to broadband, and aren’t mincing words:

“We’re talking about AT&T,” Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, bluntly told a rally of business owners, families and local officials gathered in the state Capitol. “They’re the most powerful lobbying organization in this state by far.” The bill has been opposed for years by AT&T, Comcast and other providers who say it’s unfair for them to have to compete with government entities like EPB. But EPB, as well as some lawmakers like Gardenhire, say if the free market isn’t providing the service, someone else should. “Don’t fall for the argument that this is a free market versus government battle,” Gardenhire said. “It is not. AT&T is the villain here, and so are the other people and cable.”

AT&T’s response to Tennessee’s sudden realization that the company has actively worked to ensure the state remains a broadband backwater? Give a lecture on how taxpayer money is fine to throw at AT&T, but is wasteful to use on delivering broadband to areas AT&T refuses to serve or upgrade:

AT&T spokesman Daniel Hayes said in an email “it is incorrect to equate the common practice of government providing incentives to encourage private-sector behavior with the concept of direct government competition.”…”Generating significant amounts of public debt to sustain municipal networks is a different animal,” Hayes added. “Taxpayer money should not be used to over-build or compete with the private sector, which has a proven history of funding, building, operating and upgrading broadband networks. Policies that discourage private-sector investment put at risk the world-class broadband infrastructure American consumers deserve and enjoy today.”

The problem with that argument: that “proven history” isn’t real. Companies like AT&T and Verizon have taken billions in subsidies over the years from federal and local governments, then failed repeatedly to meet deployment obligations. Companies like AT&T are now focusing all their attention on wireless and, outside of high-end development communities, have frozen deployment of fixed-line broadband. In fact, these companies are looking to disconnect millions of DSL customers they don’t want to upgrade, potentially resulting in greater broadband gaps than ever before. Yet here the company is, still lecturing locals desperately looking for better connectivity on how only AT&T has the solution for what ails them.

Here’s the thing about municipal broadband: if broadband providers don’t want towns and cities getting into the broadband business, the solution is simple: provide better, faster, and cheaper broadband. These residents and local businesses aren’t jumping into often pricey and labor-intensive broadband projects because they think it’s fun. They’re doing so because the entrenched broadband providers are refusing to upgrade their networks, and waiting for mono/duopolies with no competitive incentive to upgrade has proven to be a fool’s errand.

And while incumbent carriers for years successfully fueled partisan division to ensure nobody really stopped and thought about what companies like AT&T were doing, as the years pass and many remain stuck on last-generation DSL — the whiff of lobbyist bullshit has begun to hang more heavily in the air. As a result, locals in many areas are finally waking up from AT&T’s trance, and realizing that if they’re ever going to get next-generation broadband in a market without real competition, they very well may have to be the ones to build it.

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Companies: at&t, centurylink, comcast, time warner cable

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Comments on “States Wake Up, Realize AT&T Lobbyists Have Been Writing Awful Protectionist State Broadband Laws”

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30 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Oh, well in that case...

Policies that discourage private-sector investment put at risk the world-class broadband infrastructure American consumers deserve and enjoy today.”

Given the majority of ‘American consumers’ don’t have ‘world-class broadband infrastructure’ available to them, with a great many lucky to have ‘usually up at half the listed speed-class broadband’, then I’m not seeing a problem, as clearly nothing is at risk.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

…Government…isn’t exactly noted for efficiency or economy, so if they can provide broadband cheaper and more efficiently than a huge ISP with all the economies of scale…

This has been a ‘double edged sword’ even when cable TV first started: providers don’t want to share infrastructure and governments don’t want multiple infrastructures over/under their streets and sidewalks. Even wireless towers are running into resistance when 3 or more want to set up in the same location. At some point there will need to be discussion on ISP’s (the providers/generators) sharing one distribution infrastructure maintained by a neutral (or regulated) third party, similar to electricity.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: AT&T Lobbyists Have Been Writing Awful Protectionist State Broadband Laws

Nice idea in theory, but the problem is that there wouldn’t be enough room on the suits of some of them, given how many companies own them. Maybe restrict it to the top ten? Two on each arm(upper and lower), two on the chest(left and right side), one on each shoulder, and four on the back. Could probably fit that many and still have the ‘badges’ large enough to be easy to recognize.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: AT&T Lobbyists Have Been Writing Awful Protectionist State Broadband Laws

That happened recently in Australia’s federal parliament when one of the RWNJ LNP politicians in the pocket of mining companies wore a jacket with his sponsor’s name in large letters for all to see. He got told off for advertising a company/product as that is against the law of the chamber. Not for being being sponsored by a rich corporation, who find politicians are cheaper by the dozen.

Justme says:

Re: AT&T Lobbyists Have Been Writing Awful Protectionist State Broadband Laws

Just like every bill in congress, every amendment to any bill should require a sponsor and a minimum number of co-sponsors. So our representatives can be credited with and/or held accountable for their work.

Accountability is by design almost impossible under the current rules. And billions of dollars flow from the tax payers to corporate profits columns without providing anything of benefit to the tax payers.

Anonymous Coward says:

this situation wouldn’t even exist if it were not for the backhanders paid to those who could do the most to aid the broadband providers in the first place and those are the likes of the State Legislatures! even worse is the fact that it has taken 15 years of complaints and bad comments, joining with piss poor services before anything is hopefully going to be done. the biggest problem though is the people! standing back moaning about something but not taking any sort of action, forcing politicians to get off their fat asses and change things, wont do and having other politicians condoning what those incumbents are doing is a disgrace!!

Anonymous Coward says:

If the ISPs would spend only 10% of the money they blow on FUD campaigns to secure their profits, on infrastructure, as they have promised and been paid for, we would have “world-class broadband”.

What needs to happen is the governments, Federal, State, and Local demand their money back for non-performance on the part of ALL ISPs. Also, the FCC needs to grow a backbone and start punishing these companies for failure to perform after receiving (stealing) billions in subsidies.

JBDragon says:

I’ve been saying for years that what we have are Government created Monopolies!!!! City’s, town and States just doing what Comcast and others tell them!!!

Instead it should be a wide open market!!! There should be zero reason why Comcast and TWC and anyone else can’t be in the same places. Then we would get better prices and much better customer support as they fight for each and every customer they get!!! Right now with these Monopolies, they don’t give a crap! Who are you going to run to? You see what happens when Google come in someplace. Comcast prices DROP, service goes up!!! Everywhere else, nothing changes.

tqk (profile) says:

ISP?

I miss the days when these outfits were called “telcos”, which is what most are. ISP means “Internet Service Provider”. That cellphones finally gained the ability to connect to the net is coincidental, yet everyone started calling AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Time Warner ISPs.

They don’t provide service, for one thing. They’re typical old style telcos in almost every way, a la Lily Tomlin. This story is a good example of that.

We should call these outfits “Crappy Cellphone Connectivity Providers”, or CCCP.

nasch (profile) says:

Which is it?

Companies like AT&T are now focusing all their attention on wireless and, outside of high-end development communities, have frozen deployment of fixed-line broadband.

So in this story: https://www.techdirt.com/blog/netneutrality/articles/20160209/12421533564/one-year-later-isp-claims-that-title-ii-would-demolish-broadband-investment-found-to-be-total-indisputable-bullshit.shtml

were you talking about the high-end development communities, or wireless?

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