Biden Broadband Plan Embraces Community Broadband In Stark Contrast To Trump
from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept
Some 750 US communities have built some kind of locally owned and operated broadband network, usually in response to broadband market failure. Data has repeatedly shown that these networks usually not only offer faster, better service than the private sector, they frequently prompt apathetic local monopolies to actually try harder. That’s not to say community broadband is a panacea for all US markets, but it’s certainly an important part of the puzzle that is fixing the US’ mediocre and expensive broadband access problem.
Yet during the Trump era, community broadband was treated like some kind of infectious disease.
FCC Commissioners could usually be found falsely trying to claim such networks posed a dire threat to free speech. More recently, the GOP tried to pass a bill that would have banned such networks entirely (during a pandemic no less). While this opposition is usually framed as a good faith concern about taxpayers (a concern that never manifests when an incumbent like AT&T gets billions in exchange for absolutely nothing), the reality is such folks really just don’t like anything that interferes with the God-given revenues of deep-pocketed campaign contributors like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.
Enter the Biden administration’s new broadband plan, which pledges to expand “future proof” (read: fiber) broadband access to the entirety of America within the next eight years. While notably vague on anything detailing how they’ll actually accomplish or pay for this, the outline indicates the proposal, part of a much broader $2 trillion infrastructure initiative, specifically embraces community broadband as a cornerstone of these efforts:
“It also prioritizes support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives?providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”
Unlike many DC pundits, regulators, and politicians who find it challenging to do so, the plan clearly spells out how a lack of competition results in higher prices and substandard service, and that community broadband helps drive competition to lower ROI areas. The plan even singles out the twenty or so state laws, almost always ghost written by telecom monopolies, that block or hinder such networks (regardless of what local voters may want):
“President Biden?s plan will promote price transparency and competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge.”
While the Biden team says it will take aim at these protectionist state restrictions, that may be easier said than done. When the FCC previously attempted to pre-empt such laws it was shot down by the courts, so it’s not entirely clear how the Biden camp intends to do this. Still, the plan clearly acknowledges that you can’t fix the US broadband problem by simply throwing more subsidies at entrenched monopolies. Companies with a comical record of not following through on network deployment promises that come on the heels of every tax break, subsidy, merger approval, or regulatory favor.
The other problem is that any plan that upsets entrenched telecom monopolies is going to have a hell of a time getting through a campaign-cash slathered Congress. COVID has done a great job forcing lawmakers to finally start doing more on the subject of affordable broadband, whether that means improving the US’ crappy broadband maps, or updating the definition of broadband to something more fitting for the modern era. But we still aren’t quite at the point where policymakers uniformly realize that US broadband sucks not just because of monopolization and limited competition, but also outright state and federal corruption.