Support For Community Broadband Could Be On Chopping Block As 'Bipartisan Broadband Negotiations' Continue
from the concessions-only-go-one-direction dept
We’ve already noted how the Biden broadband plan was good, but arguably vague. As in, the outline proclaims that the government will boost competition and lower prices, but it doesn’t actually get at all specific about how it actually hopes to do that. For example the plan proposes providing more support for community broadband, but with 17 ISP-backed state laws prohibiting such efforts (and new ones popping up in states like Ohio), it’s not clear what that support will actually look like.
Telecom giants like Comcast and AT&T have been relentlessly lobbying both parties. They generally want one thing: more subsidies thrown their direction to fill in the coverage gaps they should have shored up a decade ago, and less money thrown at generating competition across their existing footprints. 83 million Americans live under a broadband monopoly, and incumbents spend countless billable hours covertly working to protect this profitable dysfunction.
As a result, the scope of the Biden broadband plan (and the infrastructure proposal) continue to shrink. The $100 billion plan is now a $65 billion plan, and it seems fairly likely that many of the restrictions AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast have been gunning for will make their way into any final proposal. It’s also pretty unlikely Republicans, who consistently try to ban communities from building better, faster broadband networks, will support community broadband:
“Congressional Republicans have tried to ban municipal broadband nationwide, so it’s highly unlikely that they would have agreed to Biden’s stated goal of giving public networks priority over private ISPs in the next big round of government subsidies.”
When it comes to broadband policy, what’s often passed as “concession and compromise for the sake of bipartisanship” isn’t actually that. In reality it’s usually just select Democrats and Republicans, prodded by AT&T and Comcast to weaken proposal language, pretending their opposition is due to being principled spendthrifts. But the same politicians who don’t want to spend money on broadband now, saw no problem with throwing billions in tax breaks at these same companies for absolutely no reason or beneficial outcome. So there’s no logic to much of this stuff, but we like to pretend otherwise.
It has to be made clear that this country has thrown untold billions in subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors at regional monopolies for networks that are routinely half completed. And notice that when there are “concessions” bandied about, they almost uniformly only seem to go one direction: in the direction of what’s beneficial to regional telecom monopolies not coincidentally tethered to our intelligence-gathering apparatus. It’s a relentless, corrupted process, all covered up by ambiguous and breathless political support for “fixing the digital divide.”
Not to be too cynical; there’s still some notable improvements that could be done with the reconciliation process and some grit. But with broadband, generally the outcome of “bipartisan compromise” is almost always immense fecklessness. As in, a broadband plan that talks a lot about “curing the digital divide” and the “miracle of 5G,” then just throws yet more poorly tracked subsidies at entrenched broadband monopolies. All while refusing to do much to tackle the increasingly obvious reason US broadband remains mired in mediocrity: regional monopolization and corruption.