Despite Empty FCC Promises, Broadband Prices Jumped 19% During Trump Era

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

To justify its decision to effectively lobotomize itself at telecom lobbyist behest, the Trump FCC made all manner of promises. A major one was that if we gutted regulatory oversight of Comcast and AT&T, we’d see a massive boost in broadband investment. Shockingly, that never happened, despite repeated, ongoing claims by Ajit Pai and friends to the contrary.

Another major promise was that kissing the ass of major broadband monopolies would somehow magically boost competition, lower rates, and aid consumers. Well, guess what:

“The average US home-Internet bill increased 19 percent during the first three years of the Trump administration, disproving former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai’s claim that deregulation lowered prices, according to a new report by advocacy group Free Press. For tens of millions of families that aren’t wealthy, “these increases are felt deeply, forcing difficult decisions about which services to forgo so they can maintain critical Internet access services,” Free Press wrote.”

The report in question is based on the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Consumer Expenditures Survey data that shows that broadband prices jumped at four times the rate of inflation during the Trump era.

It’s indisputable that when you let a handful of telecom giants create largely unaccountable regional monopolies on broadband access, prices will go up. That’s doubly true when the Congressional lawmakers and regulators purportedly in charge of protecting the public interest instead make decisions that largely benefit said monopolies. Despite this reality being indisputable, this is still often treated as something worthy of debate among ISP-allied industry leaders and many in the press. And it’s often not even mentioned when many talk about the “digital divide” and how to fix it.

And of course as prices for consumers went up (during a pandemic and historic layoffs, no less), the costs for big ISPs dropped. But instead of reinvesting that money back into the network and employees (a purported perk of both the Trump tax cuts and the gutting of the FCC), executives and shareholders pocketed the proceeds:

“Capital investment by Internet providers has dropped, “with substantial declines at large companies like AT&T (where 2020 investment was 52 percent below the 2016 total for the company on an inflation-adjusted basis) and Comcast (where 2020 cable segment investment was 22 percent below 2016’s level on an inflation-adjusted basis),” the report said.”

Even during the Obama era, where its FCC at least tried to protect consumers (net neutrality, privacy) prices rose significantly (albeit not as quickly) because there’s just no real interest in standing up to deep-pocketed campaign contributions or addressing high prices due to monopolization. Especially when those companies are dutifully tethered to your intelligence-gathering and law enforcement systems.

The broadband industry and its allies often attempt to claim prices dropped, usually by looking at very exclusive metrics that don’t tell the full story (including studies that don’t include the ocean of misleading fees that jack up advertised prices). But the impact of mindless consolidation, endless megamergers, corruption, and regulatory capture couldn’t be more clear.

Despite this giant head fake repeating itself every few years (former FCC Chairman turned top cable lobbyist Michael Powell engaged in this same mindless deregulation with the same empty promises), nobody in a position of American leadership seems remotely interested in learning from experience. And the press, purportedly tasked with doling out the truth to Americans, can often barely mention that corruption and monopolization are the primary reasons for America’s ongoing broadband mediocrity, and the fact most of us pay way more for broadband than our overseas counterparts.

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Comments on “Despite Empty FCC Promises, Broadband Prices Jumped 19% During Trump Era”

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11 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

techdirt cant do anything about it, except to make as many people as possible aware of what happened. hopefully, the arseholes in ‘politically prominent positions’ will take note, especially those who backed Pai and the then FCC. why the hell cant Pai be prosecuted for what he did? he openly lied, using his position to enable his ability to lie, all the while doing nothing to assist the public, as was his job, and everything to help the major ISPs to give even more poor service, charge higher prices and give worse customer services than ever!

sumgai (profile) says:

Re: Re:

…. why the hell cant Pai be prosecuted for what he did?

Two words: Qualified Immunity.

You can thank the USSC for that one. You can communicate with your Congresscritter to let them know that you want them to pass the bill that will end this kind of crap. Don’t know if it will do any good, but it’s a guarantee that if you don’t, the bill’s chances of success is that much lower, eh?

Anonymous Coward says:

They probably can get away with this because Comcast has "internet essentials" for $10 a month for low-income people, and a $45/month prepaid internet-only that makes it affordable. Maybe they don’t advertise it enough but they’ll want to pick up the streaming crowd somehow. Comcast also has free public wifi right now at any public hotspot.

deanathema (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Yeah, it says that on their website since last year, except, it doesn’t work. If you actually try to sign up, it said and still says "this service has been discontinued"
Their website is atrocious, circular and disjointed, but if you manage to win the maze, you lose. I tried to use it at end of last year, no dice, and again earlier this year, still nothing, and recently, nope.
Another cool thing is that they used to let you connect to any of the xfinity guest hotspots if you paid 45 a month, or 5$ a day or so, even by the hour, but they stopped doing that also at some point this year, so they recommend you to get the comcast prepaid router, which I ended up being forced to get. I got that and it didn’t work, so they sent a tech quite promptly to the house and ran a new line, which surprised me greatly.
I submitted a complaint to the FCC about the false advertising for hotspot connectivity and received a call from Comcast executive offices to discuss the issue, but I missed it. Oh well…

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Question:
Could this be misinterpreted?
Providers offer lower prices for both bundled service and package tiers.
And in most cases the discounted service is internet.

With more Americans dropping movie channel packages, and tv outright, you’d expect to see rates go up for the remaining services no?

Just good for thought. A quick look at our triple play bill history shows our internet went up about $12 since 2015. But we were/are on the highest plan, and it went from 250Mbps to 800mbps in that time frame.

So I wonder how much of such a report has to do with people jettisoning their tv service and getting the higher non-bundled rate now.

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