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?

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.”

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Companies: at&t, comcast, itif, verizon

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Comments on “Yet Another Telecom-Backed Think Tank Insists U.S. Broadband Is Great, Actually”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

'These are not the terrible companies you are looking for.'

When the facts are on your side, pound on the facts.

When the law is on your side, pound on the law.

When the laws(and resulting market dominance) that you bribed more than a few politicians for are under threat because your reputation has become so toxic that towns are building their own bloody broadband networks rather than deal with yours… pay someone to lie like a rug and gaslight like mad for you I guess.

(As an aside I find it absolutely hilarious that they’d try to tag Karl for that ‘study’, talk about the last person likely to fall for their lies though silver lining I would take it as evidence that he’s perhaps been a bit more effective in calling them out on their actions then they’d like.)

Anonymous Coward says:

when a report comes out from a company that gets paid backing from those that the report is about, not only does it show how biased that comany is but how desperate to continue screwing the country those companies in the report are! there needs to be much, much more truthful dirt dragged up about these telecoms companies to the extent that those politicians backing them are actually put out on a limb and hopefully, find that backing them is far more dangerous to their political careers than getting caught for receiving the back hander payments ever was!!

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Exactly this.

Also, i don’t have my absolutely buried in the telecomsphere, but i do not think i have ever heard the term "Big Broadband". Is that a label which is at all commonly used, or is that just one more own-goal element of Atkinson’s own-goal paragraph?

And then there’s the "anti-corporatist" label. Most of the loudly anti-corporatist types i encounter are nowhere on the "socialist" end of the spectrum (or multi-dimensional phase space if one wants to avoid the binary, but who needs nuance, right?).

There is so much packed into just one paragraph. "chipping away at the credibility of the industry" – yeah, that’s another self-own, both in reality, as well as in the propaganda. The industry has earned its credibility loss and any derision. Although it seems most of what Atkinson wishes to fram as "derision", other people would more simply refer to as "facts" or "metrics".

Anonymous Coward says:

I for one gave up on Big Broadband. Service was atrocious, to say the least. When it takes them a week to get around to fixing their problem and the hassles just to get connected to the right office to deal with it, that’s a bit too much.

Just to get past the office that deals with incoming calls, after a 20 minute go-a-round, the way I got through to the office I needed was to tell them I was fed up with the red tape just to get connected and was ready to sent their equipment back.

Of course as a ‘make it all better’ they offered 2 free months of internet, the problem is that 2 months of no internet is no better than what I had.

I did change ISPs. I got far far better speeds, much better service (as in the next day repair) and far better terms (as in no caps).

Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a choice of who will provide your internet.

Lastly, I congratulate TechDirt for being named in the article. It means you are being effective enough they want to discredit you for showing where the problems are.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"Not everyone is as lucky as I am to have a choice of who will provide your internet."

Yes, this being the major issue people complain about. I don’t hear these arguments in my local market, where there’s a wide range of choice of different ISPs, different delivery methods, etc. They mainly come up when talking about markets where there’s zero to little choice and people who would ditch their ISP in an instant don’t have that option, or at least where the available options are not really options for what they need.

ECA (profile) says:

Points of interest.

How Cheap is it?
The ISP’s bought the Tier1 section of the net, Probably to control who would get access. But found out Anyone can connect as long as there is a CABLE HANDY.
ISP’s have been buying out Sites. Yahoo, excite and many others are gone. Mostly because the Corps didnt understand how to Run those services.
What does the ISP need to give access? Cables and a server connection. The rest of it, tends to be selling services for companies to Build a Site using the ISP servers. But it dont seem as they are doing much of anything to compete with the Big guys.

There are companies out there that would do the job, that are not ISP’s. Pay Them, and not the corp.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Points of interest.

"Yahoo, excite and many others are gone."

Yahoo is definitely not gone, though it is irrelevant for the most part. Well, Excite is actually still around as well, although it’s even less relevant and doesn’t resemble what it used to be after Ask Jeeves acquired it.

"But it dont seem as they are doing much of anything to compete with the Big guys."

You do realise you’re commenting on an article pointing out that the big boys are doing what they can to kill smaller competitors, right?

ECA (profile) says:

Re: Re: Points of interest.

They are trying to compete with the big guys.
By buying up things they dont understand well enough how they work.
These ISP’s are Bill collectors. Not innovators. Buy up a movie production company, then get rid of the boss, that knows how it all works and what do you get?
When you buy Yahoo or any of the others, what are you getting? Just servers and a connection to the net. What do you get when you fire over 1/2 of those that work there?

One of the Khan’s was taking over the Asian areas, but was killing off the farmers. 1 Leader Just surrendered(many others did also) But the king of the land told the Khan. Dont kill farmers; Khan asked why as they do nothing; the King said they raise the Grains your Horses eat, without them you Horses will not eat much.

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