States Wake Up, Realize AT&T Lobbyists Have Been Writing Awful Protectionist State Broadband Laws

from the pure-protectionism dept

For more than fifteen years now, companies like Comcast, AT&T, Time Warner Cable and CenturyLink have quite literally paid state legislatures to write protectionist broadband laws. These laws, passed in around 20 states, protect the incumbent duopoly from the faintest specter of broadband competition -- by preventing towns and cities from either building their own broadband networks, or from striking public/private partnerships to improve lagging broadband networks. They're the worst sort of protectionism, written by ISPs and pushed by ALEC and ISP lobbyists to do one thing: protect industry revenues.

Despite the fact the laws strip away citizen rights to decide local infrastructure matters for themselves (because really, who better to decide your town's needs than AT&T or Comcast executives), ISPs for more than a decade managed to forge division by framing this as a partisan issue. But then something changed: companies like Google Fiber and Tucows began highlighting how public/private partnerships are actually a great way to fill in the broadband gaps left by an apathetic, uncompetitive broadband duopoly.

After fifteen years of napping, the FCC also jumped into the fray and began fighting these laws in two states (Tennessee and North Carolina), arguing they hindered the FCC's mandate to ensure even and speedy broadband deployment. The broadband industry responded by having loyal politicians like Marsha Blackburn run to defend these bills, purportedly "outraged" by the FCC's "assault on states' rights" (please note that incumbent ISPs being allowed to write horrible state telecom law did not cause the slightest offense).

And with a brighter spotlight being shined on these laws, the partisan division encouraged by the broadband industry is mysteriously beginning to fade away. In Tennessee, lawmakers have been pushing a law that would dismantle AT&T's version of the law in that state, which has stopped a popular Chattanooga municipal gigabit provider (EPB) from expanding. Lawmakers pushing the bill appear to now be realizing just how destructive AT&T's lobbying apparatus has been to broadband, and aren't mincing words:
"We're talking about AT&T," Sen. Todd Gardenhire, R-Chattanooga, bluntly told a rally of business owners, families and local officials gathered in the state Capitol. "They're the most powerful lobbying organization in this state by far." The bill has been opposed for years by AT&T, Comcast and other providers who say it's unfair for them to have to compete with government entities like EPB. But EPB, as well as some lawmakers like Gardenhire, say if the free market isn't providing the service, someone else should. "Don't fall for the argument that this is a free market versus government battle," Gardenhire said. "It is not. AT&T is the villain here, and so are the other people and cable."
AT&T's response to Tennessee's sudden realization that the company has actively worked to ensure the state remains a broadband backwater? Give a lecture on how taxpayer money is fine to throw at AT&T, but is wasteful to use on delivering broadband to areas AT&T refuses to serve or upgrade:
AT&T spokesman Daniel Hayes said in an email "it is incorrect to equate the common practice of government providing incentives to encourage private-sector behavior with the concept of direct government competition."..."Generating significant amounts of public debt to sustain municipal networks is a different animal," Hayes added. "Taxpayer money should not be used to over-build or compete with the private sector, which has a proven history of funding, building, operating and upgrading broadband networks. Policies that discourage private-sector investment put at risk the world-class broadband infrastructure American consumers deserve and enjoy today."
The problem with that argument: that "proven history" isn't real. Companies like AT&T and Verizon have taken billions in subsidies over the years from federal and local governments, then failed repeatedly to meet deployment obligations. Companies like AT&T are now focusing all their attention on wireless and, outside of high-end development communities, have frozen deployment of fixed-line broadband. In fact, these companies are looking to disconnect millions of DSL customers they don't want to upgrade, potentially resulting in greater broadband gaps than ever before. Yet here the company is, still lecturing locals desperately looking for better connectivity on how only AT&T has the solution for what ails them.

Here's the thing about municipal broadband: if broadband providers don't want towns and cities getting into the broadband business, the solution is simple: provide better, faster, and cheaper broadband. These residents and local businesses aren't jumping into often pricey and labor-intensive broadband projects because they think it's fun. They're doing so because the entrenched broadband providers are refusing to upgrade their networks, and waiting for mono/duopolies with no competitive incentive to upgrade has proven to be a fool's errand.

And while incumbent carriers for years successfully fueled partisan division to ensure nobody really stopped and thought about what companies like AT&T were doing, as the years pass and many remain stuck on last-generation DSL -- the whiff of lobbyist bullshit has begun to hang more heavily in the air. As a result, locals in many areas are finally waking up from AT&T's trance, and realizing that if they're ever going to get next-generation broadband in a market without real competition, they very well may have to be the ones to build it.
Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: broadband, broadband laws, competition, fcc, isps, lobbyists, state laws
Companies: at&t, centurylink, comcast, time warner cable


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2016 @ 11:39am

    If the ISPs would spend only 10% of the money they blow on FUD campaigns to secure their profits, on infrastructure, as they have promised and been paid for, we would have "world-class broadband".

    What needs to happen is the governments, Federal, State, and Local demand their money back for non-performance on the part of ALL ISPs. Also, the FCC needs to grow a backbone and start punishing these companies for failure to perform after receiving (stealing) billions in subsidies.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Recent Stories
Advertisement
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.