Maine The Latest State To Try And Let Giant Broadband Providers Write Shitty, Protectionist State Law
from the you're-not-helping dept
One of (several) reasons why American broadband is so uncompetitive is the fact that we continue to let giant broadband mono/duopolies quite literally write awful state telecom law. As we’ve long noted, more than twenty different states have passed laws making it difficult to impossible for towns and cities to improve their local broadband networks — even in instances when the entrenched duopoly refuses to. Many of these laws even ban towns and cities from entering into public/private partnerships with the likes of Google Fiber. It’s pure protectionism.
Maine is the 49th ranked state in broadband speed and coverage — in large part due to rural markets. Despite countless years of subsidies, broadband providers consistently refuse to seriously upgrade these areas at any scale due to costs. And yet they refuse to let the towns do it themselves, either. State Representative Nate Wadsworth has introduced HP1040, aka “An Act To Encourage Broadband Development through Private Investment.” Except like so many of these bills, the proposed law’s name is a stark 180 from what the legislative measure actually does.
You see Wadsworth is a state chair for ALEC, the group most ISPs use to help them ghost write these protectionist bills. And Wadsworth’s proposal, like countless others, imposes a laundry list of restrictions on any town or city that might dare try to do something about the fairly awful service state residents receive from the likes of Frontier Communications and Comcast. From limits to how money can be raised to requirements for repeated public referendums (at which point deep-pocketed ISPs outspend local advocates), communities suddenly face all manner of restrictions on what they can or can’t do in their own backyards.
Page Clason, Member of the Islesboro Broadband Committee, described HP 1040 this way:
“I would say this proposed bill is puzzling because while suggested to promote investment of broadband in Maine it would do the opposite. Nothing in the bill provides stimulus, most everything in the bill provides increased hurdles and costs for communities needing the broadband investments. The only stimulus I can garner from such an approach would be that the largest providers would be further comforted that no other service providers would show up to do the builds that the dominating providers have not been supplying for the last few decades.”
More often than not, backers of these bills claim they’re only looking to protect taxpayers from fiscal mismanagement. But community broadband networks aren’t by nature inherently dysfunctional (though they’re often sold that way by municipal broadband opponents). They’re like any other business plan: some are good, and some aren’t. But the reality is that towns and cities wouldn’t be getting into the broadband business if they were happy with local service. The “solution” to this organic backlash isn’t letting giant duopolists write shitty law; the solution is more competition.
And laws banning municipal broadband — and especially public/private partnerships — accomplish the exact opposite of that. And while large ISPs (and their ocean of paid think tankers, economists, and other doller-per-holler professionals) have tried to make this a partisan issue — the vast majority of municipal networks are built in Conservative areas with broad, bipartisan support. That’s because there’s one thing we can all agree on: nobody likes the local cable and broadband monopoly. And, as the local Maine newspapers make clear, consumers aren’t half as dumb as many politicians think they are:
“I can guarantee you if this bill moves forward, they will hear from an awful lot of very angry people,” (said one Maine resident). ?Maine people are self-reliant, but island people are very self-reliant. When the boat stops at the end of the day, we take care of each other, and if somebody comes in from the outside and says we can?t take care of ourselves, that message won?t go over well.”
The public is, however, inattentive — and so state by state, large ISPs like Frontier, CenturyLink, AT&T and Comcast continue to push such bills through state legislatures. When they can’t get a bill passed once, they’ll try repeated times. When that doesn’t work, they’ll try to push these restrictions through via entirely unrelated legislation, like traffic bills. These same companies will then whine excessively about “overreach” when government does things they don’t like, but remain dead quiet when they use that precise same government to protect the dysfunctional status quo.
Update: Lo and behold, the fierce public opposition has resulted in the bill being killed. Pressure appears to have been so intense, even the bill’s sponsor, Nate Wadsworth, voted it down.