Trump, Big Telecom Continue Quest To Ban States From Protecting Broadband Consumers

from the have-your-cake-and-eat-it-too dept

As we’ve noted a few times, the Trump administration’s repeal of net neutrality did a lot more than just kill net neutrality rules. It effectively neutered the FCC’s ability to hold giant broadband providers accountable for much of anything, from attempting to charge customers a rental fee for hardware they own, to the litany of bogus fees ISPs use to falsely inflate their advertised rates. So when a select group of folks try to claim that “killing net neutrality must not have mattered because the internet still works,” they’re advertising their ignorance.

Another problematic aspect of the FCC’s net neutrality repeal was that it also attempted to ban states from protecting consumers. The goal of the telecom sector, if you haven’t noticed, is a complete and total oversight vacuum of one of the least competitive, and most disliked, business sectors in America. And it’s fairly shocking how far along they’ve gotten in their quest without more people generally pointing out it’s kind of a bad idea to let the Comcasts and AT&Ts of the world run amok sans regulator oversight or meaningful competition.

Unfortunately for the telecom sector, its quest to block states from filling the consumer protection void hasn’t gone that well. The courts so far have generally ruled that the FCC can’t abdicate its authority over consumer protection, then turn around and try to dictate what states can or can’t do. That’s not stopping the Trump administration or telecom giants, which have continued their lawsuits against states like California on a state by state basis. Last week, the DOJ and ISPs filed amended complaints in California in a bid to scuttle that state’s net neutrality rules:

“California will likely point to other portions of the DC Circuit order, which found that the FCC’s power to preempt is limited because the commission abandoned its Title II regulatory authority over broadband. “[I]n any area where the Commission lacks the authority to regulate, it equally lacks the power to preempt state law,” judges wrote in that case. The FCC’s “affirmative” sources of regulatory authority come from Title II, III, and VI of the Communications Act, judges wrote. But Pai’s FCC chose to apply Title I to broadband, which contains no such authority.”

ISPs (and the various policy wonks under their employ) like to whine that states pursuing their own consumer protections (be they privacy, net neutrality, or anything else) creates a “fractured landscape of discordant state laws.” But that ignores the fact that this is a problem created by the telecom sector. It in effect wants to have its cake and eat it too, all the while ignoring the broad consensus of the public and experts that the agency’s previous net neutrality rules were little more than a modest effort to keep telecom monopolies from abusing their monopoly power in the streaming video era.

Some FCC Commissioners, like Jessica Rosenworcel, weren’t particularly impressed:

There remains a delusion among a certain subset of tech and telecom policy folks who believe that if you neuter regulatory oversight of an uncompetitive sector like broadband, magic and ponies somehow sprout from the sidewalk. But as U.S. telecom history has made pretty clear by now, when a company like AT&T or Comcast sees neither competition nor meaningful regulatory oversight, they simply double down on the same bad behavior. That means higher prices, worse customer service, patchy availability, and bad privacy and net neutrality practices (you know, like AT&T only excluding its own video services from usage caps).

In Comcast and AT&T’s ideal world, nobody, anywhere would be able to do a damn thing as they protect their geographic monopolies from competition and accountability. And shockingly, there’s still a small subset of folks (including the Trump administration) who seem to think that’s a good idea.

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Comments on “Trump, Big Telecom Continue Quest To Ban States From Protecting Broadband Consumers”

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19 Comments
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Curiosity

Let’s try a hypothetical (or two). Both assume that there is an election in November, that Trump doesn’t win and actually vacates the office after many tantrums, and the new administration is both reasonable and for the people (I did say hypothetical).

  1. How would, or could, the FCC go about reasserting their authority over broadband and the companies that provide them (and maybe even preventing future FCC’s from going down this rabbit hole again)? Add in potential crossovers to number 2 below.

  2. How would, or could, the FTC go about fixing the non-competitive nightmare that currently exists and achieve a minimum of 3 (more would be better) available choices in each and every market? Breaking up the monsters into regional sections a la AT&T obviously didn’t work and won’t work again, so any breakup would have to have bits and pieces of the existing monsters competing with other bits and pieces of the existing monsters, but in such a manner that each has at least the potential to succeed (take the organizational chart and split each department into three pieces with like capabilities and assets). Oh, and a moratorium (several centuries long) on future consolidation.

As an addendum, suggestions as to helping me awake from this dream. I swear, the only drug I take is aspirin, for my heart condition, so suggesting the stopping of hallucinogenics wouldn’t be of help.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Curiosity

The infrastructure is a natural (local) monopoly, and should be regulated as such, providing the exchanges where ISP can place their equipment. This is the solution most of the rest of the world has adopted, and it allows for competing ISP’s. As competition at the infrastructure level is expensive, and tends to a local monopoly, like ISDN lines being abandoned because cable provides a better service.

Trying to create competition at the infrastructure level fails in the longer term because duplicated infrastructure is expensive, and become a burden when a company starts losing out to a competitor.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Curiosity

My understanding is only one infrastructure is necessary as the ability to let multiple ISP’s offer their services is well established, with the right setup. Infrastructure does not need competition, it does need to be built (without undue interference, digging holes is hard enough) and maintenance. Services provided over the infrastructure is where the competition is needed.

But as you point out, cable vs phone lines vs fiber is where the incumbents have been placing their bets, and while they have achieved their goals (monopolies for their particular infrastructure configuration) it is the wrong way to run the industry, at least if we take the consumers point of view first.

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

Re: Curiosity

How would the FCC go about reasserting it’s authority? By doing the same thing Pai did: asserting it’s authority (given to it by Congress) to decide which title to regulate broadband under. It’d mean going through the analysis and review process again, but given the state of broadband it should be easy enough to satisfy the administrative requirements to rule that broadband should return to Title II classification and regulation.

R.H. (profile) says:

Re: Curiosity

As an AC noted, the only part that is a horribly dangerous monopoly is the physical network. The government could simply use eminent domain to buy all of the physical networks. Or, even better, the federal government could start a new public works project aiming to build out fiber to every address in the country with the government itself owning all the fiber and leasing access to all ISP’s equally. A mix of the two would also be possible. As the national network grows the government could use eminent domain to buy fiber networks belonging to the telecos.

The costs of any of these plans would be incredibly high (after adjusting for inflation they’d probably be higher than nationwide electrification, or phone service, or the interstate highway network) but, at this point, I don’t think we have any better options.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Curiosity

  1. Congress would have to reauthorize it. The FCC explicitly claimed it doesn’t have authority, and the courts have agreed with it. About the only other way that might happen is if the "authoritative" agency (the FTC according to the FCC) passed the buck back to the FCC. But that would basically establish a legal precedent to pass the buck on all regulation by having the various agencies constantly argue over ownership of regulatory power. Really Congress needs to make illegal the ability for agencies to abdicate their charges without congressional approval.
  2. Capitalism is, by definition, a constant attempt to consolidate money into fewer and fewer hands. This game of break them up wack-a-mole will never end as long as Capitalism endures. The issue is that we’ve neglected our vigilance and allowed these companies to consolidate as much as they have. These companies needed to be broken up much earlier than this, and the need to do so only grows with each passing second. "Eternal vigilance. That is the price we must continually pay."

As for the lack of waking, sorry but constantly wanting to avert your eyes is what got us all into this mess.

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ECA (profile) says:

State/fed/Private.

The Fed has no rights in forcing States to use PRIVATE agencies.
The Fed, is supposed to be Balanced. and not represent Any side or favoritism..
The State, generally if we get down to the bottom of the pile of Documents, is only have signed Constitution and abid by those conditions to be PART of the Union. Everything past that is Voluntary..mostly.
And the States handing over control to the gov. for certain purposes.. Its like the Highways.. the Fed installed the Major ones from state to state and is supposed to Pay to keep them up, while the state has there sections, and the Cities have theirs.

John Nolan says:

Avoiding telecom accountability

Meanwhile, back in monopoly-land, phone companies are replacing copper lines (which they won’t maintain) with fiber to the residence (which they might). However, when people phone to schedule an appointment to do the on-premises they are signed up for the full, expensive, internet/phone/TV bundle. The fine print notes that since the phone service is now a "data" service, they can’t complain to the state public utility commission and must address their complaints to some other body (like the attorney general). Neat way to shove utility commissions (who usually take consumer complaints seriously), out of the way.

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