House Passes Massive Broadband Bill That Surprisingly Doesn't Suck

from the not-a-chance-in-hell dept

The majority of broadband bills that wind their way through Congress don’t actually address the most pressing problem in US telecom: a lack of meaningful broadband competition. Often the bills focus almost exclusively on heavy subsidization of incumbent telecom monopolies, an approach that requires a level of diligence the U.S. has historically not been capable of. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which passed the House last week, certainly includes its fair share of subsidization, including $80 billion in fiscal year 2021 to help deploy fiber broadband networks to the underserved parts of the country.

But the bill also contains a number of other improvements most objective experts have long supported, including:

  • Wording that eliminates the 19 state laws, usually literally written by incumbent ISPs like AT&T, that prohibit or hinder your town or city from building its own broadband network, even if existing private providers have refused to upgrade your area.
  • A “dig once” mandate that dictates that fiber conduit must be installed alongside any new highway construction in a bid to make widespread fiber deployment easier.
  • a $9 billion Broadband Connectivity Fund that would dole out $50 monthly discounts for low-income broadband users, and $75 monthly discounts for low-income households in Tribal lands. Our existing low income program (Lifeline) was started by Ronald Reagan, and doles out a measly $9.25 credit that must be used on wireless, phone, or broadband service, and the Pai FCC has been fairly relentless in its quest to eliminate even this modest subsidy. Often, according to the courts, without actually measuring the real-world impact of their tactics.
  • A provision that dictates that any new subsidized fiber builds must be “open access,” meaning that numerous ISP competitors will be allowed to come in and compete using centralized infrastructure. For decades, data has indicated that such a model results in better, cheaper, faster broadband service thanks to forced competition — and for just as long, US policy makers have ignored this data.
  • These are, again, all things that actual telecom policy experts (not to be conflated with the army of academics, think tankers, consultants, lobbyists and lawyers often tangentially employed by ISPs to help pretend US broadband isn’t a shit show) have been advocating for for years. Many of them — specifically “dig once” provisions and eliminating protectionist state laws — generally have wide, bipartisan public support.

    But while the bill passed the House with a vote of 233-188, there’s not a chance in hell of it passing the Senate or getting Trump’s signature. In large part because it runs in stark contrast to the Trump administration’s and Pai FCC’s approach to telecom policy, which largely involves doling out massive tax cuts, regulatory favors, and other perks to natural monopolies in exchange for massive layoffs and reduced overall sector investment. Then not only pretending that this approach worked wonders, but ignoring the high prices and limited competition that has plagued the US telecom sector for decades.

    Like so many other things in tech policy (like net neutrality), actually recognizing a lack of competition in telecom — and wanting to actually embrace pro-competition policies — has somehow become a partisan issue, dooming us to inaction and further Comcast and AT&T dominance. While this bill is decent, its backers pushed it as election season fodder with the knowledge it won’t pass. Without a dramatic Congressional shakeup, arm in arm with serious efforts to rein in Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon’s dominance over state and federal legislatures, it likely never will.

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    Comments on “House Passes Massive Broadband Bill That Surprisingly Doesn't Suck”

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

    Even a bluff can have value

    If nothing else throwing a bill like this to the senate to be killed will let voters know who favors the public and who favors the corporations that the public detests, letting them vote accordingly, and if the senate calls the house’s bluff and actually passes it in an intact state then the public will come out ahead even more.

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

    "Our existing low income program (Lifeline) was started by Ronald Reagan"

    That looks suspiciously like a fact. The common clay of the new West prefer to refer to them as "Obamaphones" and pretend that a small expansion to the program to add to other expansions made by the Clinton and Bush administrations means that Obama was giving everything away for votes.

    "A provision that dictates that any new subsidized fiber builds must be "open access," meaning that numerous ISP competitors will be allowed to come in and compete using centralized infrastructure"

    Europe says welcome to the late 90s, we hope this will work as well as it did for us.

    "While this bill is decent, its backers pushed it as election season fodder with the knowledge it won’t pass."

    I wonder – given all the vastly more pressing short-term issues on the table between now and then, is there a chance this would simply be delayed until the next Senate? It would be interesting if a Trump defeat and the subsequent shake-ups of the relevant parties meant that this would be early on the table for them, rather than late for the current crop.

    Anonymous Coward says:

    Re: Re:

    "open access" … Europe says welcome to the late 90s

    More like "welcome back". The USA had that for DSL till 2005, when the FCC reclassified it to "put DSL on even footing with cable modem service" (which, of course, pretty much every other country did by forcing cable providers to allow third-party access).

    With lots of people out of work right now, and indoor work being risky, this would be a great time to start a large public works project such as trench-digging. Like back in the 1930s, when "CWA workers laid 12 million feet of sewer pipe and built or improved 255,000 miles of roads, 40,000 schools, 3,700 playgrounds, and nearly 1,000 airports."

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

    Have some more subsidy.

    It has been argued that the current batch of Telecom/Broadband providers have been given enough ‘incentive’ (cough, cough) to have laid down fiber to the home for almost everyone already, and they haven’t. If this is true, and the fiber to the home doesn’t exist (which is true) then who the hell are they going to get to run all this new fiber? Giving more money to the current batch of Telecom/Broadband providers doesn’t make any sense, but then where does it say that government spending should make sense? What are the provisions in the bill that say the fiber layers get money on completion, rather than up front for failure?

    Anonymous Coward says:

    popcorn please

    BOTH SIDES ARE PAID BY THE SAME LOBBYISTS. Yet we get this show where one side plays the protagonist – swooping in to save the day for the middle class, and the other side plays the villain – only interested in what’s profitable for the corporations.
    We’re doped.
    -Politics is a distraction.
    -Voting is selfish.
    -We don’t elect the president; the electoral college does, and they can still vote with or against the popular vote.

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