AT&T Buries Language In Missouri Traffic Bill To Hinder Broadband Competition

from the the-best-lawmakers-money-can-buy dept

Prompted by AT&T, Missouri passed a state law in 1997 that hamstrings towns and cities looking to build local networks to shore up broadband coverage gaps. Since then, AT&T has made repeated attempts to expand those restrictions further, fearing a growing rise in public/private partnerships from the likes of Google Fiber, Ting, or the countless towns and cities tired of AT&T’s pricey, slow broadband service. After a failed attempt last year, AT&T this year introduced protectionist bill HB 2078, shortly after shoveling $62,000 in campaign contributions to state leaders.

AT&T’s bills vary in scope across the twenty-odd states in which they’ve been passed. Some ban community broadband altogether. Some saddle towns and private partners with additional restrictions so combating the incumbent duopoly is financially impossible. Others, like HB2078, employ language that forces towns to hold time-consuming public referendums, at which point AT&T can bury the proposal with a wave of negative PR and lawyers.

All of them have tried to sow partisan discord under the pretense of AT&T just being concerned about taxpayers funding the bill for such projects. But the laws serve just one purpose: protect AT&T’s stranglehold over an uncompetitive broadband market. That’s obviously a much easier sale in states willing to quite literally let AT&T write state law in exchange for cash donation.

The problem for AT&T is that as Google Fiber and other similar efforts have shown a light on the benefits of public/private partnerships to shore up lagging broadband markets, AT&T’s behavior has become increasingly unpopular among both political parties. So when HB2078 stalled after passing through the Missouri House committees on Utility Infrastructure and the Select Committee on Utilities earlier this year, AT&T lobbyists got decidedly more clever. They convinced Missouri House Representative Lyndall Fraker to bury the language of HB2078 into an unrelated bill dealing with Missouri traffic issues:

“The bill seems to have lost momentum since mid-March but its sponsor, Rep. Lyndall Fraker, is taking another approach to make sure his bill gets passed, come hell or high water. Session ends May 13th, so he is now banking on procedural tricks, rather than the substance of his legislation. On May 2nd, when a bill relating to traffic citations, SB 765, came before the body, Fracker proposed to amend it with language from HB 2078. Some of the amended language is even more destructive than the original proposal in HB 2078.”

As Ars Technica notes, whether the bill can get conference committee approval now that the public has noticed what AT&T and Fraker attempted to do isn’t clear. Though should AT&T succeed, it would only help cement Missouri as a broadband backwater, keeping consumers from fleeing to alternative broadband options as AT&T prepares to impose major new usage caps and overage fees across the majority of the ISP’s markets later this month.

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Comments on “AT&T Buries Language In Missouri Traffic Bill To Hinder Broadband Competition”

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22 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: only $62,000 ?

As was noted in the Ars Technica article, Missouri House Representative Lyndall Fraker received $3,450 from AT&T in his time as a lawmaker since 2011. He has also received $2,300 from CenturyLink and $1,500 from Comcast.

For ATT, that’s the equivalent of bribing some yabbo with a Happy Meal. What a rube.

Anonymous Coward says:

not only should AT&T be held accountable for this behavior, any and all politicians not just involved but doing the sort of ‘bad for the public’ acts like Lyndall Fraker is committing should be removed from office! he isn’t doing this for any other reason than assist AT&T and in return is being well rewarded with campaign contributions.

ok, i appreciate this thing isn’t isolated but isn’t it about time that ‘the peoples representatives’ were made to do just that and not be concerned with nothing other than themselves and how big a fortune they can amass while in office, doing the bidding of industries, a fortune that will bode them well should they ever lose their seat or be retired while the public get well and truly screwed?

Whatever (profile) says:

“The problem for AT&T is that as Google Fiber and other similar efforts have shown a light on the benefits of public/private partnerships to shore up lagging broadband markets, “

No, Google Fiber has shown mostly that a company with gobs of free cash and nothing to do with it can spend hundreds of millions a year with absolutely not requirement for a return on investment, just to “disrupt” others.

Go look at the most recent Google / Alphabet numbers, they lost 500-600 million (if memory serves me correctly) on their various extra projects, with Google Fiber being the majority of that loss. In any other industry, that would be akin to dumping.

Derek Kerton (profile) says:

But It IS Related To Road Traffic

But Karl, if you slow down broadband enough, then people will need to drive hard drives around town in order to move content. At this point, using sneakernet, the road traffic is directly related to broadband speed and access.

This is no mere hypothetical, see
http://www.fastcompany.com/3048163/in-cuba-an-underground-network-armed-with-usb-drives-does-the-work-of-google-and-youtube

If we’re lucky, Missouri will soon have equal data infrastructure as Cuba…but without the medical coverage.

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