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New Bill Tries To Ban Community Broadband. During A Pandemic.

from the you're-not-helping dept

Having covered telecom for twenty years, I’ve found there’s a good shortcut to determining if somebody’s really serious about fixing US broadband issues: can they admit that (1) monopolies exist, and (2) that this results in a lack of competition. The data is indisputable on this point. US broadband is heavily monopolized, and as a result is mediocre on nearly every metric that matters, whether we’re talking about availability, speed, price, or customer service.

And yet, there’s a parade of lawmakers, regulators (like former FCC boss Ajit Pai), think tankers and others who are, for either financial or rigid ideological reasons, still incapable of acknowledging that reality. As a result, they can’t really fix the problem.

Take the lion’s share of the GOP, for example. The party just spent four years gutting most meaningful oversight of America’s broken broadband sector under the completely false claim that this would somehow result in monopolies like AT&T and Comcast doing a better job, expanding access, and boosting overall network investment. That simply never happened, and anybody claiming otherwise is lying to you.

Now, with Covid shining a bright light on the essential nature of broadband, the GOP has been forced to at least pretend they care about the problem. As a result, they’ve ushered forth a series of bills professing to “bridge the digital divide.” Not too surprisingly, not a single bill acknowledges that private sector monopolization, limited competition, or high prices are even a problem.

Instead, the focus of all of the GOP’s bills are focused exclusively on placing the blame entirely on the back of local governments. And while governments can sometimes be a pain in the ass to work with (not that working with Verizon, AT&T or Comcast is any real treat for governments either), the problem at this point isn’t really local government. We’ve spent twenty years hamstringing local government authority and giving all the power to incumbent private players through a litany of policy. And the result has been: precisely the shitty, Comcast-dominated market we all know and love. “More of that,” is not a serious solution.

Yes, there’s the occasional example where cumbersome regulatory underbrush could still be cleared out, or common sense policies to speed up deployment could be enacted (like “dig once” legislation requiring fiber or conduit be run alongside any new highway bill). But again, the real problem isn’t local government when it comes to US broadband. The real problem is regional monopolists so politically powerful that nobody on the state or federal level, often from either party, has the backbone to stand up to them. The result is a mish-mash of ass kissing dressed up as real policy.

In fact, one of the bills, Missouri Rep. Billy Long’s Communities Over regulating Networks Need Economic Competition Today 6 Act, (pdf) actively tries to ban communities from building their own networks. As we’ve noted, such networks are an organic, grass roots reaction to obvious market failure, and they’ve proven to be invaluable during the pandemic. Not only do they deliver some of the fastest speeds in the country, they’re a novel way to force lazy incumbent monopolists to try harder.

The Act title makes no coherent sense, as the bill would hinder, not encourage, competition. There are, of course, already twenty odd state laws, literally written by AT&T or Comcast, that hamstring community broadband. The industry has spent years trying to push for a federal ban on such local networks, for no other reason than they would harm AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, or Charter’s bloated revenues.

Usually, these bans are piggybacked on the false claim that such community networks are an inevitable taxpayer boondoggle. Yet, not coincidentally, you’ll never see these folks complain when AT&T is given a $42 billion tax cut in exchange for absolutely nothing. They similarly have nothing to say when billions are doled out to regional monopolies that repeatedly fail to deliver those networks. Not a peep.

One sad and frustrating aspect of America is how little it costs a company like AT&T to buy proposed legislation. For telecom giants, it’s easier to give somebody like Billy Long $60,000 in PAC donations than to upgrade their networks in lower ROI areas (despite billions in tax breaks and subsidies to that end).

Real solutions for US broadband problems start with the understanding that monopolization and corruption are the reasons US broadband sucks. If you can’t do that, you’re not actually interested in solving the problem, you’re engaged in performative fluff and nonsense. Either because you don’t actively understand the market you’re talking about, or you’re working, indirectly or not, to help entrenched monopolists preserve the status quo.

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Comments on “New Bill Tries To Ban Community Broadband. During A Pandemic.”

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23 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Real solutions for US broadband problems start with the understanding that monopolization and corruption are the reasons US broadband sucks. If you can’t do that, you’re not actually interested in solving the problem, you’re engaged in performative fluff and nonsense. Either because you don’t actively understand the market you’re talking about, or you’re working, indirectly or not, to help entrenched monopolists preserve the status quo.

I think it’s because the legislators and think tanks want to preserve the monopolist status quo. Without them, no campaign contributions.

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

Rule 728 – If a bill has a ‘cute’ acronym, it’s unstated aim is probably to achieve the opposite.

If policymakers spent 1/10 of the time that they expend working out the acronym on actually understanding the real problem … well it would be a start.

This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it.

fairuse (profile) says:

Re: getsearch DOT in

Whatever it is it acts like malware — top result as function.

I isolated browser and looked at site out of curiosity (I’m a cat). Yikes what a piece of FlimFlam.

In a comment (First Word)

https://www.techdirt.com/articles/20210209/08295446215/chattanooga-built-own-broadband-network-now-top-ranked-work-home-city-us.shtml#comments

I believe no telco or ISP wants federal loans to communities without broadband so they, the residents, can build it. In 1936 a mile of all the components electrify one farm $2,000, now multiply by miles from grid to farm — the farm and or co-op had to pay. After "Rural Electrification Act" cost was $600.

Using something proven to work in one instance is not proof that it would work "out in the boonies).

So here we are again, electric was new tech at farm level — machines run by people instead of people trying to do more with animal power. Fast broadband (internet services) is what electric was in 1936.

Not a rant just a little history for those who believe history needs to be revised instead of studying it.

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

Re: Force feed this message

It will be Spam filer’d to delete.

Use proper protocol – cover page, offer solution instead of word soup that wastes time. A couple of short paragraphs an aid will notice when looking at it.
Can’t get through the signal2noise ratio by spamming. Believe it or not mail hard copy. USPS was created to process letters to representatives way back – Ever hear of "Registered Delivery"?

google

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Toom1275 (profile) says:

Re: GOP Doublespeak

Every Republican bill does the opposite of its name/description.

CONNECT act: prevents network competition

Online freedom and Viewpoint Diversity act: sets up a censorship regime against non-far-right speech

BAD ADS act: uses online advertising as a backdoor to set up a censorship regime against non-far-right speech

Limiting Section 230 to Good Samaritans act: sets up a censorship regime against non-far-right speech

Trump’s "Preventing Online Censorship" executive order: sets up a censorship regime against non-far-right speech

Ending Support for Online Censorship act: sets up a censorship regime against non-far-right speech

Ending Abuse and Rampant Neglect of Internet Technologies (EARN IT) act: use false narratives about online child porn to backdoor encryption, privacy, and free speech all at once

Restoring Internet Freedom order: for the first time ever gives internet companies the unregulated freedom to defraud and cripple service to customers in any way they can dream up.

Defense of Marriage Act: attacks certain marriages by preventing them from being properly recognized

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

'Regulations are great!... when they benefit us!'

Funny how quickly legislators will go from condemning regulations and crying about how ‘the free market will fix it all!’ when it comes to large companies, but as soon as smaller ones start posing a threat suddenly the proposed regulations come pouring in and the ‘free market’ is thrown under the bus ‘for the greater good’.

fairuse (profile) says:

Re: 'Regulations are great!... when they benefit us!'

All bought and paid for be telco and comca()T <<– I tied to make a joke. Impossible to channel George Carlin.

It does not mater which party is in or out (Trump was GOTyou }, laws are written by the lobby – music, movie, Internet and copyright.

Current supply of high cost internet with slow speed is not changing in cities.Co-ops face the stupid bill like this one that uses emergency services as the "Child-p0rn" argument. That is enough FUD for any Mayor. This is an end run around markets that do not have laws restricting build community build.

If state has communities that have no broadband but there is (telco or ISP) in the market "no local building of networks. Also local counts a competing with private builds. So, AT&T wireless counts as broadband supply.

See, Congress is being paid what amounts to protection money – election year.

There is no reason to even submit this bill. On, /rant

ECA (profile) says:

For all the logic

Where in the F’ do we get anyone not understanding how this works?
For all the money paying off local and federal elected, They could have installed TONS of access.

1 Line could install Cable TV, phone service, and internet. AND charge the person 3 times for all the service. And it should be 1 Charge for all that service.
Iv heard a few stories of how this gets installed and its Still stupid. Connects a Fiber to a Local area, then run Copper to the residences.
What is the problem with running Fiber that they dont have with copper? Besides Copper already being there(and not needed to be Fix in the last 20-30 years, CAN be exposed to the cold and heat, and not buried to protect it).
Lets consider the sewer lines in most towns as access. It shouldnt be to hard to install most of the connections. Then comes the Out of town sections. that already have power lines to them, which means POLES across 90% of the areas. If they have electrical power they can have FULL service Quickly. It should not be a problem.

OR is it something completely stupid? That the Fiber companies that make the fiber, have raised the prices to get Profit JUST AS EVERY OTHER Corp does in the USA. Love those Copyrights. Love making changes to the Process, to KEEP the copyrights Longer.

OR is it that the current Corps Love to collect the bills, rather then IMPROVE what is already there? As has been done for the last 50+ years. Build a Good system, and Then only use the Basic hardware to keep it running. If its working DONT fix it. Dont Improve it. Dont make it so its easy to update or change, and make SURE no one else can use it for their OWN services.
AND keep specific Tech away from each other, as they are Compatible. Make it seem that you cant Join them, and force people to pay for All the types of service, insted of 1 that encompasses all of them.
Sounds like a car with no wheels, no motor, and you have to pay for them separate.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: For all the logic

The real problem I see, is the concept that the Corps Arnt paying, they raise the money from the consumer, and raise prices more and more.
THEY arent paying. We are. and considering this is thought to be a requirement in this nation, let alone it covers Many forms of communication from phones, cellphones, TV, Sat, and a good share of the movie distribution system. That is allot of money.
To bad it would be a misery to Just NOT use their services.

But if we stop using the service, could we Sue them? As we would not have easy access to police/fire/paying our bills? What things would we loose access to?

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PaulT (profile) says:

I can’t help but wonder how much this should all be fixed naturally. The majors are paying for this kind of legislation, but the main reason why community/municipal broadband is even considered is because those communities are underserved by the existing infrastructure. Usually the reason for that is because existing private sector companies don’t consider them profitable to service. I know that nobody in the area I live in (where I just got a free upgrade from 600Mb to 1Gb fibre from the main national ISP, and have at least 8 options for fibre and ADSL) is considering community options.

So, what would happen if instead of paying lawyers and lobbyists to stop community broadband, they spent the same money servicing the communities that want it?

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