New Bill Would Kill State Laws Blocking Broadband Competition

from the Do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

For years we’ve noted how the United States has spent billions on broadband subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors for major ISPs, only to receive half-completed networks. That’s largely thanks to lobbyists and the captured regulators who love them, resulting in a government that doesn’t do a great job tracking where subsidy money is spent, refuses to seriously police fraud, still doesn’t really know where broadband is or isn’t available, and routinely approves terrible industry consolidating mergers.

The result: the US is mediocre in nearly every major broadband metric that matters — some 42 million US consumers still can’t get any broadband whatsoever, and Americans pay some of the highest prices for broadband in the developed world. To fix this will require a deep look in the mirror, some significant campaign finance reform on the state and federal level, and the elimination of a revolving door regulator system that all but ensures the US broadband monopoly problem is perpetuated. Instead of doing that, we routinely try to thrown even more money at the problem in the hopes that this time will surely be different.

Enter the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (H.R. 7302), which would create an $80 billion fiber infrastructure program run by a new Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, coordinating the US government’s response to our broadband dysfunction. As the Electronic Frontier Foundation notes, the bill is certainly filled with a lot of good ideas, including the elimination of the 19 state laws giant ISPs have lobbied for (and in many cases literally written) that prohibit or hamstring towns and cities looking to build their own broadband networks, even if the private sector has failed them:

“The bill will also free up local governments to pursue community broadband. The removal of state laws advocated by the major national ISPs that ban local communities from building their own broadband access network is long overdue. The public sector has long ago proven essential to the effort to build universal fiber as rural cooperatives, small cities, and townships are building fiber networks in areas long ago skipped by the private sector.”

There’s a lot of other helpful portions of the bill, including a section that upgrades the standard definition of broadband from 25 Mbps downstream, 4 Mbps upstream, to a more symmetrical 25 Mbps downstream, 25 Mbps upstream. The bill also widely advocates for fiber networks that are “open access,” meaning the construction of fiber networks that can then be shared between multiple ISPs, creating a strange concept known as “competition.” It would also mandate “dig once” rules that would require laying fiber and fiber conduit alongside any new highway build project.

The problem, of course, is that giants like AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, and Charter Spectrum all but own more than half of the current US Congress and current White House leadership, so it’s unlikely to pass in the Senate or be signed into law:

“The big ISPs, which fail to deliver universal access but enjoy comfortable monopolies and charge you prices at 200% to 300% above competitive rates, will resist this effort. Even when it is profitable to deliver fiber, the national ISPs have chosen not to do it in exchange for short-term profits. A massive infrastructure program, the kind that helped countries like South Korea become global leaders in broadband, aren?t just desperately needed in the United States, it is a requirement. No other country on planet Earth has made progress in delivering universal fiber without an infrastructure policy of this type.”

As always, we can’t pass effective broadband laws or ensure we have consistent regulators armed with policies that promote competition because government has been largely corrupted by lobbying and campaign contributions. And, unfortunately, fixing this isn’t likely to happen under the current Congress, even before you get to the whole “raging pandemic and massive pile of resulting debt” thing. Should the bill pass the House, it’s all but certain to meet a swift death in the Senate. A bill like this could eventually be approved, but it’s going to require a massive shakeup in Congress and campaign finance reform first.

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Comments on “New Bill Would Kill State Laws Blocking Broadband Competition”

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32 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

To be fair, South Korea is a tiny country compared to the U.S. Laying down fiber everywhere is not such a big deal. A lot more people packed into a small area. So more bang for your buck.

But all our company’s are looking for shortcuts. Which is why pots phone lines are going away, not being maintained. Going wireless with CELL service which is not cheap and limited in speed and low CAP. As more get connected the speed gets slower and slower pretty fast.

Fiber has a ton of benefits. It’ll cost a lot to build out the network everywhere, but once done, it pays out over the long term. These companies are short sited.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Even with the "small country" excuse, this country has areas that are just as dense as South Korea or Japan that still don’t have proper broadband coverage. Also, our government has easily paid the various ISP’s more than enough to have covered the entire nation in fiber by now. They simply haven’t.

Richard M (profile) says:

Never going to happen

This will never pass, too many politicians accepting bribes (sorry campaign contributions I get the two mixed up) from the telecom industry. Just one more useful bill that never comes close to being a law.

I think we are at ~480 starlink satellites and Elon has said he needed ~600 to start limited service so getting closer. I imagine it will take at least another year or so to work out the kinks before SpaceX can start making it more widely available but that is not really all that long considering how long we have been getting screwed.

Even if takes a couple of years it is better late than never.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Never going to happen

Currently a little under 540 version 1 starlink satellites (I think there may have been some duds – though that might have been in the pre-version-1 test batch, and the last batch was 58, I think, rather than 60, to leave room for the ride-sharing planet satellites). Also, I think the magic number was 800, which should be reached after 5 more batches, maybe 2-3 months from now.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who are the bill's sponsors?

Why do I suspect that if KB had mentioned the political leanings of the sponsors, the article would have been attacked as an example of liberal-pinko-commie sucking up?

I am coming to seriously distrust the intellectual honesty of the US right. This is a great shame, because just like the so-called US left (much of which would be called right-wing in a lot of the world), they do have some important points which we would be best served not to ignore. Even the outright loonie, sometimes genuinely marxist, left do have some important points worth pondering (after all, a stopped analog watch is right twice a day, isn’t it).

I know that hoping for us all to get along and agree is a pointless wish, but is it really too much to ask for some honesty and civility in public discourse?

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Who are the bill's sponsors?

That’s kind of irrelevant to whether the bill is a good idea. Both sides come up with good and bad ideas. It would be nice, for a change, to evaluate these ideas on their merits rather than their partisanship.

It seems you’d prefer to automatically label anything red as good and anything blue as bad. Shame on you.

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Who are the bill's sponsors?

I doubt very much a good ‘red’ bill could be drafted.

I’ve worked for the Democratic party. Throwing up a ‘perfect’ bill when you know it cannot pass the other chamber is virtue signaling. They’re taunting us with a bill they would have never submitted if the D’s controlled the Senate.

Shame on you for buying into this fraud. Republicans may be the perps, but Democrats enabled them every inch of the way.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Who are the bill's sponsors?

I doubt very much a good ‘red’ bill could be drafted.

There’s nothing particularly anti-conservative about allowing competition, or having governments run infrastructure—even Texas has municipal electric, water, and gas utilities, and of course roads. A "representative" that’s stubbornly against any version of this idea for internet isn’t doing a good job of representing the interests of their constituents.

If I wanted to make a "red"-friendly version, I might make a larger distinction between service and infrastructure. If a state wants to ban government-run internet/TV/phone services, let them, as long as they’ll provide reasonable access to the infrastructure—i.e., let competing private services lease access to the last-mile lines at least (probably also poles, ducts, and non-last-mile backbones). Cut all the stuff about affordability, transparency, wi-fi hotspots, etc.—cut 90%+ of the text (this is a 204-page bill!), making this one short bill about one problem: infrastructure costs that make competition impractical.

Of course, the idea of forcing a company to help their competitor might offend some people; so it’s important to let municipal governments build that infrastructure, when private companies are not willing to compete in the field of open-access-network services. Even if the government won’t be able to provide subscriber-level services on the network, a private company could do that as in Ammon, ID.

Mark Gisleson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Who are the bill's sponsors?

They never offer these bills when they can pass. This bill is being offered because they know the Senate will vote it down. It’s just politics. If by some chance the Democrats win the Senate and White House this fall, I guarantee a "different" bill will be offered.

I’ve been watching them do this since 1978. It’s a head fake. If this was real, they’d have some Republican cosponsors to help get it through the Senate.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: 'Oh, you didn't think we'd say okay? Bad look for you.'

I’ve worked for the Democratic party. Throwing up a ‘perfect’ bill when you know it cannot pass the other chamber is virtue signaling. They’re taunting us with a bill they would have never submitted if the D’s controlled the Senate.

In which case the republicans should call their bluff and pass the bill, and should it bomb they can then point out what a failure it was. If the goal really is to get the bill shot down and the democrats supporting it are banking on that then all the republicans need to do to cause it to backfire is to refuse to play along.

Sometimes even an effort doomed to failure is worthwhile if it highlights a massive point of failure, and putting forth a bill aimed at addressing a problem affecting tens if not hundreds of millions‘ only to have it shot down by politicians who care more about ensuring continued donations from the companies that would have their profits dinged than they do the public seems like a relatively harmless but good thing to show the public.

As for the ‘they’d never do this if they controlled the senate’ there’s nothing stopping the republicans from returning the favor down the line. Find a real issue that needs to be addressed, write up a bill to address it that serves the public but which democratic donors may not be happy about and then throw it out. If the democrats tank it merely to be obstructionists then they can use the opportunity for cheap PR themselves, and if they don’t then oh darn, a real issue has been addressed and hopefully improved.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Who are the bill's sponsors?

It seems you’d prefer to automatically label anything red as good and anything blue as bad.

That’s one way to read the message. The "realpolitik" interpretation would be that it’s inappropriate to use the phrase "would kill" in the headline, when we know that the unipartisan nature of this bill leaves it with little chance of passing. The article itself says "it’s all but certain to meet a swift death in the Senate."

So, yes, "would kill", in an alternate reality where political decisions are based on whether bills are good ideas.

Anonymous Coward says:

It is well to remember that the pushback on malignant-patent and copyright decisions was primarily driven by Scalia, who is generally labelled "right-wing" and most opposed by Ginsberg, who is most generally labelled "left-wing". Among people who try to think about individual issues, and HAVE to talk about specific sets of facts (such as, say, most Supreme=court judges), those labels are less than useful.

However, I see this as a useless idea, and probably unconstitutional to boot. Certainly, experience has shown that municipal broadband can be a very good thing (as in Chattanooga), it has also resulted in loss of competition and increased prices in other places (say, Poplar Bluff, MO). And Tennessee, home of Chattanooga as well as a plutocratic state, sent one of the two most-wholely-pwned-by-the-monopolists representatives to Congress, California, a demagogic stronghold, sent the other.

Focus on the individual facts!

This bill sounds seriously separation-of-powers unconstitutional to me, though. Cities are figments of imagination, but they are figments of the STATE imagination, not of the federal government. The federal government cannot authorize a state agency to do anything!

(That is somewhat of a generalization. The U.S. Constitution prohibits the government (construed as including state governments) doing some things, but that is a far cry from REQUIRING that a state offer particular services, let alone specifying which state agency must offer them.)

And, unfortunately, no law can make a government agency competent. That depends on the will of the people who are actually doing the work.

There is certainly a problem. I am just not

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

This bill sounds seriously separation-of-powers unconstitutional to me, though. Cities are figments of imagination, but they are figments of the STATE imagination, not of the federal government. The federal government cannot authorize a state agency to do anything!

Washington DC being an exception…

However, I was wondering about the separation of powers issue too. The "Interstate Commerce" clause can be used to justify the "dig once" rule (but only for interstate highways), but I don’t see how the Federal government can overturn state laws in this case.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

because they are anti-competitive and intended to generate a monopoly (or close to one between the ‘big three’ who generally only have ONE serving a specific area, thus a MONOPOLY).

The federal governments can remove impediments that are intended to create monopolies, as part of their anti-trust rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

The "Interstate Commerce" clause can be used to justify the "dig once" rule (but only for interstate highways), but I don’t see how the Federal government can overturn state laws in this case.

SCOTUS have ruled that the clause covers anything that has the potential to affect interstate commerce, even if the actual activities are noncommercial and entirely within a state. Also see This is Your Constitution on Drugs.

While internet service has a strong relation to interstate commerce, regulating municipal wires is certainly a questionable use of this power (too rarely questioned by courts). I’d say the feds could regulate actual internet services provided by the states, but not wires, poles, etc.

Anonymous Coward says:

Lets get those meddling teens (and the K-Pop scene) to help out

All we need is MASSIVE public pressure on all state legislators. If we could mobilize the same groups that help with The Donald’s fake 1 Million ticket requests, we could get some massive pressure on our legislators.

So quick, lets get some meddling teens to build an app to contact our legislators with a template message that can be tailored by the individual. Select your legislators, select your message, and the app e-mails the legislators, easy peasy… and how great would it be to hear AT&T complaining about those ‘meddling teens’ and how they would have gotten away with it forever if not for us (the public).

Anonymous Coward says:

Although i know the answer, i have to ask, how much of the $80billions will be given on top of the billions already given to the same ‘providers’ that have promised and promised everything but done the exact opposite, kept the monies, never been accused, let alone charged with misappropriation of public funds and will do so again? When is this crap gonna stop? When will these companies and 8n particular the top guys gonna be held accountable? Instead of backing them for a price, when will those in Congress also be held to account coz its no good getting half of the problem sorted, is it!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Want to motivate Congress??

Tell their constituents the average speed & prices in those "third world shit holes" they mock.
I think MAGA is stupid, but its motivating people to come out in public & try to kill themselves & others… so lets abuse it for good.

How can American be great again when less developed nations, some in the middle of decades of civil war, have higher speeds & lower prices?

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