FCC Falsely Declares Community Broadband An 'Ominous' Attack On Free Speech
from the bullshit-factory dept
Absent any hard data to support their claims, you may have noted that the Trump FCC often just makes up some shit.
Like that time FCC boss Ajit Pai tried to claim that net neutrality somehow aids dictators. Or that time Pai’s office just made up a DDOS attack to try and downplay massive public backlash to his historically unpopular policies. There’s often no real-world data that can defend blindly kissing the rings of widely-loathed telecom monopolies, so bullshit tends to be the weapon of choice when Pai’s FCC embraces whatever handout to Comcast and friends is on the menu this week.
The latest case in point: during a speech at the ISP-backed and scientifically-sounding Media Institute, FCC Commissioner Mike O?Rielly took a moment to broadly declare that community owned and operated broadband providers are an “ominous” threat to free speech:
“I would be remiss if my address omitted a discussion of a lesser-known, but particularly ominous, threat to the First Amendment in the age of the Internet: state-owned and operated broadband networks.”
We’ve long noted how community broadband networks are often an organic response to the expensive, slow, or just-plain unavailable service that’s the direct product of a broken telecom market and regulatory capture. While you’ll occasionally see some deployment duds if the business models aren’t well crafted, studies have shown such networks (there’s 750 and counting now in the States) offer cheaper, faster service than many incumbents. This direct threat to incumbent revenues is a major reason why ISP lobbyists have passed protectionist laws in more than 21 states trying to block your town’s ability to even consider the option.
If you thought O’Rielly would provide hard evidence of these networks’ “ominous” affront to free speech, you’d be mistaken. The closest O’Rielly gets to evidence is a 2015 white paper crafted for an ISP-funded think tank claiming that because these ISPs’ TOS include routine language restricting harassment and hate speech (language every private ISP also includes in their TOS and AUP), community-run ISPs’ are more likely to censor user speech:
“The closest O?Rielly gets to supporting evidence appears to be a 2015 white paper written by Professor Enrique Armijo for the ISP-funded Free State Foundation. That paper similarly alleges that standard telecom sector language intended to police ?threatening, abusive or hateful? language somehow implies community-run ISPs are more likely to curtail user speech.”
Of course the implication is that government-run networks must be bad because hey, it’s the government. Forgotten in this false narrative is the fact that on the local level, the government is obviously you and I, and these networks are a direct, democratic response to decades of frustration at the obvious failures of the telecom market. And if you talk to folks that actually have some expertise on this subject (like I did over at Motherboard), they’ll tell you that because these ISPs actually have a vested interest in the communities they serve, they’re far more responsive to user complaints:
“Municipal broadband experts say the argument has no basis in fact.
“There is no history of municipal networks censoring anyone’s speech,? Christopher Mitchell, a community broadband expert and Director of the Institute for Local Reliance, told Motherboard.
?In our experience, the Terms of Service from municipal ISPs have been similar to or better than those of for-profit ISPs in terms of benefiting subscribers,? he added. ?And when concerns have been raised about related issues…the municipal ISPs have listened to public sentiments far more than any large cable or telephone company has.”
O’Rielly also fails to mention that incumbent ISPs like Comcast routinely argue that absolutely everything the public demands of it (from expanding broadband to adhering to net neutrality) violate its First Amendment rights (an argument new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh has already supported). Whereas municipally-run ISPs likely won’t be allowed to tap dance around First Amendment lawsuits as government-linked entities mandated to avoid speech regulation.
But the biggest irony here is that one of the ISPs targeted by O’Rielly for non-existent free speech violations is EPB broadband in Chattanooga, which was just ranked by Consumer Reports as one of the best ISPs in the nation in terms of value, speed, and service quality. Comcast tried to unsuccessfully sue EPB out of existence. And as long as we’re getting vexed about your rights, both AT&T and Comcast also lobbied legislators to pass a law in Tennessee restricting voter-approved broadband networks like these from expanding, even if voters approve it at the ballot box.
Ultimately, Chattanooga’s service forced these ISPs to do the one thing they had been hoping to avoid: compete on both service speed and price. That’s not to say local-government owned broadband should be the only solution embraced, but it’s obviously one of several ways you can actually prod lumbering, pampered mono/duopolies to actually give a damn.
And of course that’s the real problem in O’Rielly’s mind: that locals would dare impede on Comcast’s god-given right to buy itself a geographical monopoly over an essential service, nickel-and-diming consumers until they grew so frustrated they’re forced to get into the broadband business themselves.
Of course ISPs could prevent this by simply offering better, faster, and cheaper service. But it’s far easier and cheaper to try and buy laws restricting consumer rights, and to have your favorite public official mindlessly demonize something that is, at the end of the day, a legitimate, organic public response to a broadband competition and availability problem ISPs like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast would prefer regulators ignore.