House Lawmakers Question Telecom Giants Over Broadband Price Gouging During A Pandemic
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
House lawmakers say that telecom giants are exploiting a national health and economic crisis to make an extra buck.
The subject of their ire are broadband usage caps, which we’ve long made very clear are little more than price gouging of captive customers in uncompetitive US broadband markets. Such restrictions don’t manage congestion, aren’t technically necessary, and serve no financial function outside of price gouging, given flat rate broadband is already hugely profitable, and “heavy” users can already be bumped to business class tiers.
Broadband caps are a monopolistic toll on captive customers. And while the Trump FCC struck a temporary pinky swear agreement with ISPs to suspend them during the first few months of the pandemic (which many ignored), ISPs like Comcast and AT&T were not only quick to return to the punitive charges, some ISPs like Comcast actively expanded them. Sure, millions of Americans are struggling to pay for essential services and rent, but monopolies are always going to monopolize unless they face one of two things: penalties via competition, or penalties via functional regulators. The US broadband sector has neither.
Regulators inclined to look away from the problem of US telecom monopolization in normal times have found it harder to do so via COVID, even if that usually doesn’t result in any serious repercussions. This week, House Energy & Commerce Committee members Reps. Frank Pallone, Jr, Mike Doyle, and Jerry McNerney lambasted companies like Comcast for doubling down on their greedy bullshit during an economic crisis:
“Over the last ten months, internet service became even more essential as many Americans were forced to transition to remote work and online school. Broadband networks seem to have largely withstood these massive shifts in usage. Unfortunately, what cannot be overlooked or underestimated is the extent to which families without home internet service ? particularly those with school-aged children at home ? have been left out and left behind.? ?This is an egregious action at a time when households and small businesses across the country need high-speed, reliable broadband more than ever but are struggling to make ends meet.”
This is all a very polite way of saying monopolies are ripping customers off during a tragic crisis. The lawmakers in question fired off equally polite letters to most telecom CEOs, asking for more detail on the timing of many capping decisions.
Granted this is empty rhetoric until the incoming administration arrives and the makeup of Congress shifts away from GOP control. For four years, the Trump administration was literally incapable of even acknowledging that US broadband isn’t competitive, resulting in mediocre service in nearly every global metric that matters, and some of the highest prices for broadband in the developed world. They similar turned a blind eye as telecom monopolies used a universe of bogus surcharges to jack up the cost of broadband and TV services post sale, a tactic that effectively lets them falsely advertise lower rates.
Again, lawmakers were happy to turn a blind eye to this stuff in normal times, but as the wheels of government shifts its focus to providing COVID aid to struggling Americans, broadband monopolies’ relentless efforts to price gouge captive customers who can’t vote with their wallets is going to find itself increasingly in the spotlight. Which is why Comcast recently expanded its broadband caps now when it knows nobody in government gives a damn.