The 'Digital Divide' Didn't Just Show Up One Day. It's The Direct Result Of Telecom Monopolization

from the can't-fix-what-you-don't-acknowledge dept

We’ve noted for a while that the entirety of DC has a blind spot when it comes to discussing the U.S. broadband problem. As in, U.S. broadband is plagued by regional monopolies that literally pay Congress to pretend the problem isn’t happening. That’s not an opinion. U.S. broadband is slow, expensive, patchy, with terrible customer service due to two clear things: regional monopolization (aka market failure), and state and federal regulatory capture (aka corruption). That the telecom industry employs an entire cottage industry of think tankers, consultants, and policy wonks to pretend this isn’t true doesn’t change reality.

But notice when regulators, politicians, and many news outlets discuss the problem, it’s usually framed in this nebulous, causation free way. About 90% of the time, the problem is dubbed the “digital divide.” But the cause of this broadband divide is always left utterly nebulous and causation free. It’s almost pathological. Seriously, look at any news story about the “digital divide” in the last three months and try to find one that clearly points out that the direct cause of the problem is regional telecom monopolies and the corruption that protects them. You won’t find it.

This phenomenon again showed up this week in a CNET interview with Jessica Rosenworcel, who appears to be the top candidate in the Biden Administration’s glacial pursuit of a permanent FCC boss. In the article, CNET talks repeatedly about the U.S. broadband problem without once mentioning that telecom monopolies exist, and are the primary reason U.S. broadband is painfully mediocre:

“According to a study last year by the New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, the US has the highest average monthly internet prices when compared to other countries in North America, Europe and Asia. On average, the monthly bill in the US is $84.37, which includes $68.38 for internet service and $15.99 for equipment rental fees.

“What’s become clear is that affordability is a really big issue in the digital divide,” she said. “And we’re going to need programs like the EBB to help solve it.”

Again, please notice how expensive, shitty broadband is just this thing that exists for some nebulous reason. That Comcast, Charter, Verizon, and AT&T have lobbied for thirty years to create a favorable policy environment that harms competition and prioritizes their bloated revenues doesn’t even get a sentence. It’s just this bizarre act of omission driven by, you’d have to imagine, a fear of upsetting sources and advertisers. Or in the case of politicians and regulators, powerful telecom lobbyists that can make or break your career.

Please notice the word “competition” isn’t even used once in an interview with a top U.S. telecom regulator about the state of U.S. broadband, where the primary issue remains a lack of competition. The article almost acknowledges the U.S. telecom monopoly problem when it discusses “digital redlining,” or the documented tendency of regional telecom monopolies like AT&T to refuse to upgrade low income or minority neighborhoods (while simultaneously lobbying for laws preventing them from building their own broadband networks). But even here the problem is addressed in this causation-free, nebulous way:

I think the fact that we’re having a conversation about digital redlining is a good thing. We’ve got communities in this country that for too long have been overserved or underserved and overlooked. We’ve got to figure out how to address that.

Clearly and accurately calling out regional telecom monopolies is just viewed as…impolite in DC and much of the “he said, she said,” access-motivated U.S. press. But you can’t fix a problem you refuse to even acknowledge. And when it comes to regional telecom monopolization and the corruption that protects it, we’re not even beginning to ask the right questions, much less acknowledge the real origins of the problem.

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Comments on “The 'Digital Divide' Didn't Just Show Up One Day. It's The Direct Result Of Telecom Monopolization”

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Anon says:


One possible problem is that unlike many other western countries, the USA has 3 branches of government. The house of congress is most affected by the grassroots, since all politicians are elected locally – same as members of parliament in the UK, Canada, etc. But members of parliament (MP’s) compose the government. What gets them elected specifically affects who leads the country, so they and their party have a strong interest in listening to constituents. Piss off only a few ridings, and there goes your majority or your plurality.

By contrast, the president directs the agenda in the USA, and being widely elected (and due to costs, beholden more to donors) has less need to listen to regional issues over their own pet projects. Ditto for senators elected state-wide. Even should the other party win a majority of congressional seats, the executive does not fall. The same dichotomy is visible in state governments, which mimic the federal constitution. No matter what some district representatives may want, the state-wide representation does not see local issues or bend to them.

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Constitution?

partly right.
Congress is in 2 parts.
1 is the states and the other is the federal part.
Both elected by the states people.
The problem here is No one pays attention to WHAT the hell they are doing. Which is NOT what is supposed to be done.
Then comes the Backroom and secrets act. 99% of congress is BOREDOM, we even have a TV channel for it, if you cant get to sleep. They generally dont READ the bills out loud. they must read them personally. And I dont think 1/2 of them even READ most Any of it, as they are PARTY controlled(only way to get that extra money)
They DO NOT have to listen to the president. the Problem here is have 1 group in charge of the president, and 1 section of the congress, means a little bit of money into the OTHER sides PERSONAL pockets, means you can get anything you want.

If you look at other democracies you will se 1 BIG difference. WE HAVE a 2 party system. Which was warned about by the forefathers. 2 Kids yelling at each other, and BOTH against the citizens. and NO 3rd party to referee, or 4th or 5th party.

ECA (profile) says:

would it be nice?

IF the gov. cancelled and restricted ALL State contracts with the corps? Cancel all of them. NO more favoritism, not Tax breaks.
AT THE VERY LEAST, renegotiate all of them. this is as bad as USA corps in S. America taking advantage of the oil reserves and Farming(Fair trade BS).

There was a debate long ago, about HOW and WHEN the state or Gov. can run a business. In the old days the Military had tax free locations for the men to BUY stuff including groceries, for those at HOME and Even Abroad. The corps took over and now they pay as Much as the rest of us.
The USA gov. has backed of DONE the work the corps DIDNT, in the past. And NOW for some Odd reason it Wont do the work. They would rather take bids(which used to have hundreds of bidders) from ONLY a few over priced Corps, to do anything. How much would you pay for a Business only computer? there is a great chance our gov. pays 3-4 times that price, If not more.

How many dams were Built by the gov. and have 100 years LEASE fee’s to the electric corps?
Why does our Gov. STICK to contracts they make, but when the Corps Fail or over-run, WE PAY THEM MORE.
Corps want a payout of 10-100 times the Effort to get the work done, and then Piecemeal the JOB. Then have to get paid Again, to FIX what they failed to do.
How many people could we get working if we had the Gov. do the job?? Higher it out and get 80% done in 1 year?

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