Tennessee Study Shows State Remains A Broadband Backwater Thanks To AT&T Lobbyists, Clueless Politicians, And Protectionist State Law

from the get-the-hell-out-of-the-way dept

We've talked at great lengths about how AT&T's gruesomely cozy relationship with many state legislatures has severely damaged broadband expansion and adoption across huge swaths of the country. That's particularly true in Tennessee, one of nineteen states where AT&T lobbyists have literally written protectionist state laws defending AT&T's monopoly from broadband competition. AT&T's goal has been to stop the rise of public/private partnerships, which have only emerged as a direct response to AT&T's apathy.

AT&T lobbyists have been happily getting such laws passed for fifteen years with little attention by the media. That began to change with the rise of efforts like Google Fiber, which more clearly illustrated how public/private partnerships have become essential in bringing broadband competition to countless areas incumbent ISPs deem "not profitable enough" to care about. Last year, the FCC finally woke up from its own long slumber on the subject, stating it would be preempting measures in two such state laws (in North Carolina and Tennessee) that hindered municipal broadband efforts from expanding.

Tennessee's response? To sue the FCC -- claiming that state rights were being violated (letting AT&T write bad state law? Perfectly ok, though).

As that lawsuit is being hammered out in the courts, Tennessee state leaders have been forced to respond to an increasingly annoyed citizenry; one that's slowly woken up to AT&T's role in keeping Tennessee a broadband backwater. Part of this effort by Tennessee leaders has been to fund a new study taking a closer look at the state of broadband in Tennessee. And while some thought the study would be used to obfuscate state broadband problems, the full survey has been released and it doesn't pull any punches (pdf).

The study ranked Tennessee 40th in terms of overall broadband investment and availability, and found that 13% of households (or 834,545 Tennesseans) lack access to any high-speed broadband internet service whatsoever. The study found that the vast majority of Tennessee residents still get internet access through slower services like DSL, wireless or dial-up connections, either because that's all that's available, or because they couldn't afford faster options. The bright spot in the Tennessee report? The ultra-fast services being offered by the state-owned utility in Chattanooga (EPB):
And while the study does yeoman's work avoiding specifically citing AT&T's campaign-cash stranglehold over state leaders like Marsha Blackburn as a massive reason why Tennessee broadband remains mired in mediocrity, it doesn't shy away from pointing out that the state's decision to try and blockade public/private partnerships -- when they're the primary driver of broadband improvement everywhere else in the country -- isn't very smart:
"In States where there are no restrictions, administrative burdens or regulatory limitations for any entity to build telecommunications infrastructure and offer services, there is more competition and more broadband investment, especially in rural parts of the state. Municipalities and electric cooperatives who have a vested interest in the vitality of their local communities are investing in broadband infrastructure because it is a key driver to economic development."
But this shouldn't really be new information for state leaders who prioritize AT&T campaign contributions over the welfare of countless Tennessee residents and smaller businesses. They've just chosen to ignore reports like this one, because they've convinced themselves that selling state laws to the highest bidder is ok -- because they're engaged in a noble fight against government intrusion into the private sector. AT&T, as you might expect, clung tightly to this narrative when asked about the study by the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
"...a spokesman for AT&T called the consultant's report "disappointing," because it appears to favor more government involvement in private business. "It largely ignores private sector investment and focuses heavily on proposals that grow government with little reference to the associated costs and risks to taxpayers," spokesman Joe Burgan said."
In reality, AT&T and other incumbent broadband providers simply adore bloated, dysfunctional government -- just as long as it's doing what AT&T wants. It's when government starts to heed the will of the people that you'll usually find AT&T crying like a petulant child. Tennessee politicians, too, showed they're not making much progress in opening their minds to the reality that improved broadband may mean some layer of local government involvement when the private sector fails state residents:
"Norris, who said he remains wary about municipal broadband based on the failure of Networx in his district near Memphis, said he hopes the push for more broadband is not an excuse for bigger government. Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, vice chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, also expressed concern about allowing government-owned utilities like EPB to compete with private firms such as AT&T or Comcast. "We want to look closely at this study, but in general, I am not for government and business competing in the marketplace," he said.
Again, though: AT&T and Comcast aren't competing, and Senators like Green are letting large ISPs literally write laws ensuring they never have to. And these local governments aren't getting into the broadband business because it's fun or because they're villains trying to ruin your ideological good time -- they're doing it because they've been saddled with awful broadband thanks to regulatory capture perpetuated by the same folks complaining about dysfunctional government.

Dysfunctional government fighting municipal broadband under the pretense of caring about stopping dysfunctional government is, for lack of a more scientific term, a massive disingenuous circle jerk. One that perpetuates distraction from the real issues of the day by intentionally inciting partisan discord.

All told the study found that Tennessee could easily deliver speeds of 25 Mbps to every business and consumer in the state for somewhere between $819.5 million and $1.7 billion. And while that's not a small number, you can be absolutely guaranteed that significantly more than that has been spent by AT&T (and unfortunately taxpayers) over the last fifteen years to ensure real, vibrant broadband competition never materializes.

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jul 2016 @ 6:34am

    Sick of it!!!

    Clueless Politicians

    Get it out of your freaking heads, Politicians are by no means clueless!

    Corrupt is the freaking word you are looking for!


    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 6:59am

    "That's different because mone- I mean reasons."

    "Norris, who said he remains wary about municipal broadband based on the failure of Networx in his district near Memphis, said he hopes the push for more broadband is not an excuse for bigger government.

    Great, so what about the numerous times a private company failed to meet what they promised('Theoretically capable of being connected still counts'), and then either wiggled out of the requirements or had the politicians step in and erase the requirements to let them off the hook?

    If you're going to say that having the government or simply other private companies step in is a bad thing because sometimes it doesn't work out perfect or even just fails, then you cannot honestly then ignore the times that the companies you're favoring have done the same or worse.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Ed Allen, 21 Jul 2016 @ 7:23am

      Re: "That's different because mone- I mean reasons."

      Don't forget that without risk of failure we cannot have the market these folks claim is so efficient.

      Failure is the way markets eliminate inefficiencies.

      Preventing failures is a guarantee of fat and laziness.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 21 Jul 2016 @ 12:31pm

        Re: Re: "That's different because mone- I mean reasons."

        Bailing Out failures is a guarantee of fat and laziness and repeat "failures".


        AFAIK, in a capitalistic economy, failed businesses are allowed to fail - that's just the way it is - there is no such thing as "To Big To Fail". So, I suppose this means our economy is not based upon capitalism but rather it is based upon socialism - Oh Noes!!!!

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Annonymouse, 21 Jul 2016 @ 7:12am

    So time to bring back the stocks and flogging for public servants and their corporate owners.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Jul 2016 @ 7:21am

    there is one thing that is responsible for useless USA broadband and that's the same thing that allows police officers to behave in the ways they do, ranging from traffic stops for no reason, to the constant killing of black Americans for no reason and that 'thing' is the politicians! not a single one is in the least bit interested in doing what is needed, ie, when a police officer does wrong, instead of giving him a paid holiday while all the evidence is changed round and the excuses can be put in play and everyone on the police officers side get their stories straight, fucking sack him/her and issue criminal charges! it's the same with broadband from the point of view that even with something as basic as this, something that has been declared a 'human right', those same politicians wont do a damn thing to get upgraded systems because it would upset the companies! those companies, remember, are the ones that pay to get what they want while the voters only elected the politicians!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Stuart, 21 Jul 2016 @ 7:46am

    I live in US Zip 33876 and pay $53 (w/ 1year contract to reduce from $65) a month for 3MB (!) DSL because that is the fastest available. There is no cable. downloads are ~200-300Kbs and Netflix is SD only.

    Not sure how the laws in my state are regarding broadband build out, but overall US broadband is in terrible shape.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    JustShutUpAndObey, 21 Jul 2016 @ 8:18am

    Not reponted in the news

    The parent company of NBC is Comcast.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Zarvus (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 9:25am

    Relatedly, I just now got off the phone after cancelling my AT&T service. It was pretty painful. Like talking to a perky Starbucks barista for 15 minutes. I'm not sure how many times I said "no, just cancel, nothing you can say will make me:

    1) Stay
    2) Get new service
    3) Get TV service (so I can get unlimited bandwidth, apparently)
    4) Get a wireless plan
    5) Just put it on hold for a month"

    I mean, jesus. I know the employees are incentivized to try to talk you into staying but this actually took 20 minutes to get them to do, and that's even with me saying "no" every 20 seconds. And now I have to send the box back or they will charge me $150 for what (at best) is a three year old, $15 router.

    I had max UVerse speeds and a phone line, both were costing me twice as much as anywhere else, and AT&T just added bandwidth caps. To my already overpriced, shitty service.

    I know Comcast etc. and any big company are likely the same but this is a case where there should be some sort of laws designed to make it easy for people to cancel service. They certainly do everything possible to keep you from cancelling. If only they cared as much about the middle part, the time between when I get the service and when I cancel.

    I've been trying not to sign up to any service where you can't cancel as easily as you can sign up., but in cases like this where they have such a monopoly they can force you to get a credit check before they'll give you service, it seems unlikely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Wolfie0827 (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 12:37pm

    "Preventing failures is a guarantee of fat and laziness."

    Which describes our major ISP perfectly!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Peter Orlowicz (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 1:02pm

    It seems particularly ironic that Tennessee is complaining about federal government interference in its local utility management, given how many of Tennessee's current and potential broadband consumers likely still get electricity from the Tennessee Valley Authority...

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ed (profile), 21 Jul 2016 @ 8:33pm

    Marsha Blackburn has so much AT&T jizz dripping from her mouth, it's a wonder she has the ability to still speak.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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