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.