Yet Another Telecom-Backed Think Tank Insists U.S. Broadband Is Great, Actually
from the ignore-the-man-behind-the-curtain dept
U.S. broadband suffers from significant regional monopolization, which directly results in the country being mediocre on nearly every broadband metric that matters… be it broadband prices, coverage, speeds, and customer service. This isn’t something to debate; the data is everywhere, and anybody who has spent much time dealing with giants like AT&T or Comcast knows the sector has major problems. By developed national standards U.S. broadband is slow, expensive, inconsistently available, with terrible customer support. The cause has always been regional monopolization and the state and federal corruption that protects it.
Granted if you asked think tanks funded directly by the telecom industry, U.S. broadband is secretly fantastic, and critics are unhinged radicals. For example, the “Information Technology and Innovation Foundation,” which has AT&T, Charter, Comcast, Verizon, and T-Mobile as financial backers, penned a new report this week trying to frame every single meaningful criticism of the sector as falsehoods being spread by “radicals” and “broadband populists” exclusively looking to undermine the industry. I was tagged by the study’s author, so I guess I’m to assume I’m one of the radical populists being mentioned?
Want to know what the Broadband Populists? Real Agenda is?: Hint: it's not better broadband. @freepress; @scrawford; @publicknowledge; @OpenTechFund; @ChadAaronMarlow; @fightfortheftr; @evan_greer; @KarlBode; https://t.co/HSYvkZADtp
— Robert D. Atkinson (@RobAtkinsonITIF) January 18, 2022
Using cherry picked data (or no data at all), the whole piece amusingly tries to argue that every major criticism of the U.S. broadband sector is false, whether we’re talking about the sector’s high prices (due to a lack of competition) to its well documented privacy scandals. The obvious motivation for the piece? The industry isn’t very happy about the continued rise of local community broadband networks as grass roots alternatives to monopoly control:
“The anticorporate broadband populists (and radicals) know that calling for the replacement of large Internet service providers (ISPs) with smaller community-based and municipal providers is likely a losing strategy.”
Of course that’s not true. Over 1,000 communities around the U.S. have started building their own broadband networks as a direct, organic, grass roots response to market failure. The movement saw renewed growth during COVID, thanks to ongoing frustration with cost and availability. Several studies (like this one out of Harvard) indicate such options often provide better, faster, cheaper service by folks with a vested interest in the communities they serve (because they often live in said communities). The solutions are far from homogenous: they come in all shapes and sizes, from local cooperatives and public/private partnerships, to broadband built on the backs of local utilities. And they’re usually tailored to local needs in a way service from AT&T, well, isn’t.
The “study” tries to frame these efforts as those of “radicals” and “socialists,” despite the fact that most community broadband networks are being built in conservative cities. Again, these folks aren’t getting into the broadband business because they’ve been spurred by “radical socialist ideology,” they’re building these networks because they’re angry about literally 30 years of market failure (and the federal failure that accompanies regulatory capture). This organic, bipartisan market response to monopolization is framed by the ITIF as some kind of nefarious plot to ruin AT&T and Comcast’s good time:
“As such, broadband populists understand that a more effective strategy is to burrow into the foundations, gradually chipping away at the credibility of the industry (which they derisively label ?Big Broadband?), and advancing endless claims about poor performance, including that U.S. corporate-provided broadband speeds are too slow, coverage and privacy protection are too limited, prices and profits are too high, and the ?pipes? are not neutral.”
The industry’s credibility isn’t in the gutter because some “radical populists” were mean to AT&T. The industry’s credibility is in the sewer for literally decades of well documented, terrible behavior, relentless bullying of competitors, high prices, slow speeds, and statistically some of the worst customer satisfaction ratings of any industry in America (really think about that last one for a moment). If the industry really wanted to thwart the movement, they could offer better, faster, cheaper service. Instead they’ve found it cheaper to lobby lawmakers into apathy (aka regulatory capture) and pay for reports that deny factual reality.
The combination of limited competition and feckless regulators means the U.S. telecom industry generally doesn’t see much accountability for market failure. If you’re a regional monopoly like AT&T or Comcast, creative, local broadband solutions with broad bipartisan public support are just about the only real, existential threat to your continued domination of a broken sector. And instead of directly addressing the problem by spending money on better support and better service, it’s far less expensive to lobby DC and portray critics as unhinged radicals exclusively interested in attacking “traditional values.”