New Washington Law Requires Home Sellers Disclose Lack Of Broadband Access
from the it's-a-utility,-stupid dept
For decades the U.S. newswires have been peppered with stories where somebody bought a house after being told by their ISP it had broadband access, only to realize the ISP didn’t actually serve that address. Generally, the homeowner then realizes they have to spend a stupid amount of money to pay the local telecom monopoly to extend service.. or move again. Time after time, local ISPs are found to be flat out lying when they claim they can offer an essential utility (broadband), and the home buyer has little recourse thanks to the slow, steady erosion of U.S. state and federal telecom regulatory oversight.
So yeah, one problem is that we continue to lobotomize our state and federal telecom regulators under the bullshit claim that this results in some kind of free market Utopia (you’d think everyday reality would have cured folks of this belief by now, but nope). The other underlying culprit has generally been America’s notoriously shitty broadband maps, which let regional monopolies obscure the patchy coverage, slow speeds, and high prices created by regional monopolization so American policymakers can more easily pretend none of this is a problem.
State telecom consumer protection is generally feckless, with the entirety of telecom policy in most corrupt state legislatures directly dictated by AT&T or Comcast. Washington State continues to be one of just a few exceptions. In the last few years the state has killed a protectionist law designed to hamstring community broadband, passed its own net neutrality laws in the wake of federal apathy, and has actually stood up to the longstanding telecom industry practice of ripping off consumers with bullshit fees. Now, the state is also passing a new law requiring that home sales disclose whether the home actually has broadband:
“Starting in the new year, home sellers in Washington will be required to share their internet provider on signed disclosure forms that include information about plumbing, insulation and structural defects…”Does the property currently have internet service?” the disclosure form will now ask, along with a space to say who the provider is. The law doesn’t require sellers to detail access speeds, quality or alternative providers.
In short, the law now gives potential buyers three days after receiving the disclosure to back out of the deal if they are concerned over any of the details indicated on the form. It basically just requires the seller to confirm whether or not they currently have access, and keeps the buyer from having to confirm service availability from a regional monopoly with a vested interest in lying about their footprint reach.
It’s a small shift, but it reflects the growing COVID-era understanding that broadband is more of an essential utility than a luxury. For years telecom monopolies (and the consultants, think tankers, and proxy policy wonks paid to love them) fought tooth and nail against the idea of broadband as a utility because it would require being regulated like one. That means stricter safeguards on things like metered usage (which would be a problem given most broadband usage caps are bullshit), sneaky and completely bogus fees, predatory pricing, and other bad practices the industry has engaged in for a generation.
Telecom monopoly lobbyists and policy folks for decades were allowed to get away with the argument that broadband isn’t an essential utility and therefore should not be subject to functional, meaningful oversight. That helped build the monopolies like Comcast we all know and love. But that rhetoric was thrown immediately in the dumpster courtesy of the harsh reality of the COVID home telecommuting and home education boom (apparently the visual of kids huddled in the dirt outside of taco bell just to attend class in the richest country in history had a motivating impact, who knew?).
The problem continues to be that reform like this remains hard to come by. Federal policymakers are intentionally hamstrung and gridlocked by a Congress awash in telecom campaign contributions, and for every state like Washington there are five states that simply couldn’t care less about the laundry list of predatory behaviors regional telecom monopolies engage in on a daily basis. Like, say, falsely claiming for thirty straight years they offer broadband to areas they don’t, in part due to incompetence, and in part to help mask a widespread lack of actual coverage and competition.