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.