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.

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Comments on “Maine The Latest State To Try And Let Giant Broadband Providers Write Shitty, Protectionist State Law”

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27 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

3 wishes

1. lobbying is illegal
2. congressional term limits
3. all congressmen/women’s children must serve in the US military.
Just throwing those out there.

To the subject at hand: the corporations buy the politicians who write the laws. How do you defund the corporations, who buy the politicians, who write the laws (‘this is the house that Jack built’)?…boycott or bend over

Wyrm (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 3 wishes

You’re right, but someone made a very ugly point with “money is speech”.

Talking to an elected official shouldn’t be forbidden. And it isn’t.

Bribing him (with money, jobs or other gifts) should be. But it isn’t. US legalized a certain level of corruption as long as it’s transparent. This is the problem, not the basic lobbying.

Do you really think that those corporations would have so much attention from politicians without bribing them? Do you really think so many laws blatantly favoring a donator would pass if not for the money?

Mike Masnick (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 3 wishes

Actually, I’m with the original commenter on that. A ban on “lobbying” makes little sense. Real lobbying can be quite useful, and plenty of lobbying is done by public interest groups. Lobbying is a system by which politicians can actually learn about the regulations being discussed.

Is it abused? Yes. Frequently. But an outright ban on “lobbying” doesn’t solve anything and would appear to be a prior restraint on expression and the right to petition the government.

I also think most people misunderstand how lobbying actually works, in that they assume it’s “bribery.” That’s rarely the case. The reality is more like “extortion.” Politicians approach lobbyists and basically say “I’m thinking of doing this…” and then expect contributions, rather than contributions coming in and then “now do this…”

The real issue is the way elections are financed more than “lobbying.”

John says:

Re: 3 wishes

Nice but unreasonable.

Maybe a politician should forced to abstain from voting on any matter from which they have received donations in the past 5 years. So if they get telco money (either direct or via lobby groups) they can’t sponsor or vote on any laws that influence either that industry directly or indirectly.

Corporate boards do that when a member has a potential conflict of interest.

Its not perfect as they could still influence others to vote and they may be promised a job when they leave their job of serving “the people”, but it at least makes it clear that receiving money in return for favours is not what the voters want.

McGyver (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 3 wishes

Lobbying as it is has evolved into legal bribe acceptance.

If it can’t be reigned in then democracy, (if isn’t already) is finished.

Two good ideas to counter this perversion are presented in previous statements above…

1- Any lawmakers accepting any sort of remuneration in any form should be excluded/barred from voting on or participating in any dealings concerning the industry from which they received the remuneration for a period of ten years (five is too short).

2- Politicians and corporations should be required to fully disclosed and list all “donations” over $25, be they monetary or in goods or services (ex: fundraising brunch, fact finding tour of a Sandals resort etc…) every election cycle and to take out full page ads in newspapers papers, as well as have dedicated pages on “news” websites like CNN (Fox does not rate as anything new-like) disclosing these numbers.

This though would be impossible, because it would it would defeat the purpose of entering politics.

Until some miracle happens, this sort of nonsense where corporations write the rules that govern them, will remain and evolve further.

Anonymous Coward says:

Competition

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.

If we really needed a law to enforce this, we could require municipal broadband networks to be open-access. Maybe say the government can provide the network but not the service in areas where 3 independent companies are providing acceptable service (over municipal lines or not), where acceptable could be "FCC-standard broadband" or "unlimited gigabit" or whatever the people–not corporations–decide.

Anonymous Coward says:

wuh?

let’s keep this sophisticated. Who mentioned any type of “prior restraint”?
All I’m asking is: what other means of ‘forcing’ corporations to do our will do we have other than boycott & financial protest? Do you have any other means of forcing the corporations (especially ISPs) to be locally competitive?

Anonymous Coward says:

The truth hurts

Still no alternative to boycotting. That’s why I believe I’m right. Every time I suggest boycotting NO ONE gives another alternative–just personal attacks.

What else can be done to coerce or convince corporations (and their bought politicians) to be competive??? We fund the monopolies.

Crickets…

Anonymous Coward says:

I’m not sure what congress does? Because all these Laws they try to pass, they aren’t written by Congress. Hell, they can’t even be bothered to read them. It’s the company’s and their lawyers who write up this crap and then bribe the politicians to pass it.

In the end, it’s the American Public that’s screwed over.

My_Name_Here says:

Municipal Broadband is a horrible idea for a whole bunch of reasons, none of which have to do with competition. It has everything to do with how municipal services work and how both the costs and the management can get out of hand.

Quite simply: Flint Michigan.

Remember too: Muni services generally are available in a limited area, they don’t like to extend them, they don’t like to do rural, and the costs are relative to how much the local government needs for other projects and how many jobs will be given to cronies. In muni politics, cronies and lackies are pretty much the norm.

It is also unfair competition. If the muni doesn’t like the laws in place (say regarding pole usage) they just change the law to favor them and keep going. No company, no matter the stacks of cash on the table, has that sort of power.

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