This Bill Could Stop Protectionist State Broadband Laws, But ISP Control Over Congress Means It Won't Pass

from the get-the-hell-out-of-the-way dept

We’ve noted for years that one way incumbent broadband providers protect their duopoly kingdoms is by quite literally buying state laws that protect the status quo. These laws, passed in roughly twenty different states, prevent towns and cities from building their own broadband networks or in some instances from partnering with a private company like Google Fiber. Usually misleadingly presented by incumbent lobbyists and lawmakers as grounded in altruistic concern for taxpayer welfare, the laws are little more than pure protectionism designed to maintain the current level of broadband dysfunction — for financial gain.

Earlier this year, the FCC tried to use its Congressional mandate under the Communications Act to eliminate the restrictive portions of these laws in two states. But the FCC’s effort was shot down as an overreach by the courts earlier this month, and the FCC has stated it has no intention of continuing the fight. That leaves the hope of ending these protectionist laws either in the hands of voters (most of whom don’t have the slightest idea what’s happening) or Congress (most of whom don’t want the telecom campaign contributions to stop flowing).

Undaunted, Representative Anna Eshoo this week introduced the Community Broadband Act of 2016 in the House, which is intended to be a companion bill to the existing bill of the same name already introduced in the Senate by Senators Cory Booker and Ron Wyden. Both bills would ban states from passing any law that prohibits a city, municipality or public utility from providing “advanced telecommunications capabilities” to state communities. In a statement, Eshoo expressed her displeasure at the ongoing efforts to thwart alternative broadband options:

“I?m disappointed that a recent court ruling blocked the FCC?s efforts to allow local communities to decide for themselves how best to ensure that their residents have broadband access,? Eshoo said. ?This legislation clears the way for local communities to make their own decisions instead of powerful special interests in state capitals.”

“Rather than restricting local communities in need of broadband, we should be empowering them to make the decisions they determine are in the best interests of their constituents. Too many Americans still lack access to quality, affordable broadband and community broadband projects are an important way to bring this critical service to more citizens.”

Which is all true, though both bills have virtually no chance at passing. Incumbent ISPs have been very successful in paying lawmakers to argue that any attempt to eliminate these protectionist laws is an “assault on states’ rights,” as argued by the likes of Marsha Blackburn. Of absolutely no concern to these critics is the fact that large companies are writing and buying the passage of state laws that ensure many states remain broadband backwaters solely to protect incumbent ISP revenues.

On the bright side, the rise of alternative (though limited) options like Google Fiber — and the FCC’s fight — have shined a very bright spotlight on a practice that has been ongoing for fifteen years with little to no public and press attention. As such, ISPs (and the politicians that love them) are having a much harder time than ever convincing locals that laws keeping them on expensive, sluggish broadband are in their collective best self-interest.

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Comments on “This Bill Could Stop Protectionist State Broadband Laws, But ISP Control Over Congress Means It Won't Pass”

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clemahieu (profile) says:

Lack of authority

The US congress also has no authority to make limit state laws for things not written in to the constitution so even if it was passed, it would be challenged and likely struck down.

Again, focusing on broadband laws at the state level will be a much better use of time because they’re easier to pass and won’t be struck down.

Anonymous Coward says:

so how about trying the ‘Name them and Shame them’ list of those who receive their ‘bribes’ (i mean ‘campaign contributions), from ISPs like Verizon? perhaps just printing a list in the paper and displaying on the media will then wake up the public to what is going on? add in what the entertainment industries are doing their damnedest to the Internet and what deals like TPP is going to do to every ordinary person and maybe there will be some changes brought about?

Andy says:

Bribes and more bribes, but leaglised by the people accepting the bribes.

Wow it is amazing that people actually allow these bribes to determine the quality of there broadband, But in the end they will lose out when other states start taking there jobs and the brain drain of people moving states to those that have decent broadband so they can create there start-up companies in friendly states. We can already see major problems for states that have enacted some stupid laws just becasue they are beign paid to do so, and sadly they are not even being paid much. If the people got together and bribed there politicians and council members they could ensure they had a good base for business to move in and for them to grow and have more taxes to improve the peoples lifestyles, maybe ensuring roads and bridges are fixed and dams are not at risk of collapsing. Shame on them and i hope the citizens unite and demand that the bribes for laws stops right now, but i doubt it, Americans seem to live in there own dream world where they refuse to improve there lives and prefer to support big business even if everything big business does is corrupt and full of lies.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Bribes and more bribes, but leaglised by the people accepting the bribes.

This is because they believe that the free market will correct itself. Erm, no.

The market ain’t free and it can’t be freed up by allowing corporate and government bad actors to continue to collude against us. Big business can actually be a force for good, but only when it’s kept in check by regulations that enforce the right of other entities to compete with them. After that, if excellence creates a natural monopoly, I’m not bothered.

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