New Bill Would Prevent Comcast-Loyal States From Blocking Broadband Competition

from the when-Comcast-writes-the-law dept

We’ve long noted how state legislatures are so corrupt, they often quite literally let entrenched telecom operators write horrible, protectionist laws that hamstring competition. That’s why there’s now 21 states where companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have successfully lobbied for laws banning towns and cities from building their own broadband networks, even in instances where the incumbent refuses to. In many states, these laws even ban public/private partnerships, often the only creative solution for better broadband in low ROI markets.

FCC efforts to pre-empt states from engaging in this kind of protectionism have been shot down by the courts, and voters continue to elect lawmakers whose top priority is protecting entrenched telecom duopolies, ensuring this cycle of pay-to-play dysfunction continues.

Occasionally lawmakers propose bills attempting to shake up this cronyism, but the ISP-stranglehold over lawmakers usually ensure they go nowhere. Case in point: Rep. Anna Eshoo has introduced the Community Broadband Act of 2018 (HR 4814), which would not only ban states from passing rules prohibiting community broadband, but would ensure that any community broadband networks that get built don’t get preferential treatment by regulators if they compete with private-sector ISPs. As bill co-sponsor Mike Doyle notes, these networks are often the only way many towns and cities get decent service:

“All too often, communities around the country struggle to get service from private providers, and where people can get service all too often it?s too slow and costs too much,? Doyle said in a statement. ?Communities that build out their own broadband networks offer competitive options that not only bring service to the unserved, but also promote competition in underserved areas.”

AT&T, Verizon and Comcast’s stranglehold over state and federal lawmakers ensures this effort will likely be killed in committee, just like the two previous efforts to pass such a law were (one by Eshoo last year, and another by Senator Cory Booker in 2016). Like net neutrality, having access to better, cheaper broadband has stupidly become a “partisan” issue thanks to ISPs eager to sow discord on the subject. And when it comes to municipal broadband, ISPs do so by framing the concept as automatic taxpayer boondoggles (actual residents tend to disagree).

Ignored in that argument is the fact that these towns and cities aren’t getting into the broadband business because they think it’s fun, they’re doing so after decades of disgust at available private options. Also ignored is the fact that making local infrastructure decisions should be left up to the communities themselves, not competition-phobic Comcast executives sitting half a world away. If ISPs wanted to stop community broadband, they could offer better, cheaper service. Instead, lawsuits, disinformation, and protectionist state laws tend to be their option of choice.

Unfortunately for these ISPs, the attack on net neutrality is only driving more interest than ever in locally owned and operated creative alternatives to the broken status quo. And as the Trump administration rushes to remove all federal and state oversight of these uncompetitive duopolies, the resulting shit show will only make such options more appealing than ever to under-served communities.

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Comments on “New Bill Would Prevent Comcast-Loyal States From Blocking Broadband Competition”

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Ninja (profile) says:

Those municipal broadband discussions often fail to show the multitude of examples where such initiatives failed hard or had problems that couldn’t be solved or that offer bad service. Pro tip: when you don’t see many examples then chances are most of them are working as intended and providing service that’s at least better than the incumbent players.

I wonder how long it will be till they start nitpicking and declaring that some municipal broadband initiative is a flop because the municipality can’t keep the toilets clean enough (?!?!?!?!?!) or some inane argument.

Machin Shin says:

Re: Re:

The real funny one will be when they find one that is struggling and has lots of consumer complaints. They will then hold that up as an example of failure, totally oblivious to their own horrible track record.

None of the big ISPs can say anything about anyone else failing. All the big players have horrible garbage service. The only reason anyone stays is because horrible service is slightly better than no service. Especially when you are almost required to have internet to do many things these days.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The real funny one will be when they find one that is struggling and has lots of consumer complaints. They will then hold that up as an example of failure, totally oblivious to their own horrible track record.

Municipalities could allow other ISPs to use their network infrastructure ("open access"), so people can find someone with better customer service… or Comcast; it’d be interesting to see how that works out when they’re not a monopoly.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

This may sound a bit trollish, but I’ve been thinking: if the big ISPs all have horrible service, the small ISPs can’t compete, and the municipal efforts require taxpayer support…

Other than the obvious meddling by the duopolies that’s creating an artificial barrier to entry, might it be possible that in the US model, real high speed internet with acceptable service levels for a reasonable rate just isn’t possible?

Most countries that have this deployed it at a Federal level, which isn’t going to work in the US.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Small ISPs can’t compete

[Citation needed]. Many small ISPs compete very well. It’s just that they are late to the party, so most of the federal subsidies that their older cousins relied on to expand to their current size are no longer widely available. And those that manage to get other sources of funding run into significant regulatory barriers preventing them from expanding efficiently (Chattanooga and Google Fiber being two more well known examples).

Most countries that have this deployed it at a Federal level

Most countries which have this are smaller than many US states, so I doubt the federal level for them is all that comparable to the federal level in the US. Particularly since most countries which have this aren’t actually a federal system, and therefore don’t have lower levels of government with the authority to do this independently.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

The current crop of big ISPs all had numerous government subsidies. If you look at the numbers, they wouldn’t have been able to get big — or even competitively successful — without them.

The small ISPs that ‘cannot compete’ with the big ISPs are generally attempting to build up without those government subsidies — subsidies that the incumbent ISPs often go out of their way via lobbying or even lawsuits to prevent those small ISPs from getting.

If the playing field were level — either by stripping the subsidies and protectionist laws from the big ISPs or extending them to the little ones — it’s quite likely that the smaller, fitter, more streamlined services would compete the big bloated former monopolies right out of business.

Iggy says:

Re: Re:

I chuckled at the “Bad Service” part. During the daytime, Verizon had me on hold for almost an hour (I called while driving to save time) until I got tired and hung up. When I called the sales line and someone answered after two minutes, I explained my issue but was told nobody in the sales line could help. Verizon was even a pain to sign up for: Verbal promises for a discount not kept, getting a condescending attitude from a salesman when asking why I could not get agreements in writing (“Why are you making such a big deal about this?”). Public ISPs, partnerships, and cooperatives have a very high bar to beat for bad customer service.

Bergman (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

When talking to a salesman on the phone, say something like “My state requires two party consent for calls to be recorded, and since your automated phone system says the call may be recorded on your end, I give my permission that this call may be recorded. Wouldn’t want you to commit a felony or anything! chuckle

It comes across as caring a bit about the salesman’s wellbeing, injects a little humor, and satisfies two-party consent laws in states that have them without informing the salesman that you are also recording the call.

Under contract law, salesmen are either just a salesman or an agent of the company. If you can say “sign me up” on the phone and wind up in a contract, then you dealt with an agent. If it was just a salesman, you’ll get a contract to sign and return in the mail.

Agents cannot lie about what the deal or contract is, because by law anything they agree to on behalf of their company IS the deal. The trick is proving it, which is why they always hang up instantly if you state outright that you are recording the call — such recordings are court-admissible proof of the contract terms, just as much as one written out on paper is.

Armed with such a recording though, you can sue a company for breach of contract and win. That’s why salesmen are under orders to instantly hang up if you tell them you’re recording.

hegemon13 says:

Re: Re: Re:

I like the idea of municipal broadband. However, I have to thoroughly disagree with your comment. A few years ago, I lived in a city where all the major utilities were provided by the city (electric, gas, water, sewer, trash pickup). I paid way more for all of them and got worse service for all of them than I did 11 miles away in a city that provided these through private companies. And I was powerless to do a thing about it because these things are not election issues, and they had a monopoly on services.

I’m not saying private is necessarily better than public, or vice-versa. The point is that a monopoly will always bring out higher prices and worse behavior, whether it’s publicly or privately provided.

Anonymous Coward says:

Yes, more please

“More competition amongst the local ISPs. Make it so, Number One.”

Hopefully, eventually, every state will have their own state run ISP, in addition to service from all the national players. Kinda like a state owned gas station, plus a Hess, plus a BP, plus a Wilco, plus an Exxon, plus a Marathon Gas, plus a Shell, etc… in each city (for the most part) statewide and nationwide. Then we’ll see competition and lower prices.

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