Trump's New Rural Broadband Executive Order Doesn't Actually Do Much Of Anything

from the Comcastic dept

You have probably noticed by now that the biggest problem in the U.S. broadband market is a lack of vibrant competition in many areas. This lack of competition over the "last mile" is the core reason for the majority of the problems in the sector, from privacy violations to net neutrality infractions. And while lawmakers from both parties adore paying empty lip service to making broadband faster, cheaper, and more available, very few have the courage to stand up to AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast and actually implement policies that improve our competitive options.

More often than not, government's "solution" for the broadband market involves first ignoring that there's any real competition problem whatsoever, then hyping "broadband expansion" efforts that fail to truly address the underlying problems.

That's usually accomplished via programs with "goals" that would have been accomplished anyway. Like when Obama promised in 2011 to ensure wireless broadband reached 98% of the public (ignoring the problem of high prices and usage caps, or the fact this coverage was going to occur anyway), or when Obama's former FCC boss Julius Genachowski promised a gigabit ISP in each one of the fifty states (also something that would have happened without government involvement). Such efforts usually comically ignore how limited competition and high prices are the biggest problem.

Keeping this proud tradition alive, President Trump this week held a rally to hype his purported dedication to the nation's forgotten rural areas. This dedication, according to a breakdown by Reuters, will involve "making it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal land and buildings":

"U.S. President Donald Trump was expected on Monday to sign an executive order to make it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal land and buildings, part of a push to expand high-speed internet in rural America. Faster internet speeds in rural areas have long been seen as key to addressing the economic divide between rural and urban America, but the costs have so far been prohibitive."

But if you bother to read the actual order, the "new efforts" cited within are nothing new. They're simply part of a concerted effort to speed up construction and placement of cellular towers and other essential gear on government property at the behest of AT&T and Verizon, a priority at the FCC for several years now. In Trump fashion however, the President took ample time to insist this looming surge in "great, great broadband" was exclusively thanks to his leadership and the creation of this new executive order:

"Those towers are going to go up and you’re going to have great, great broadband,” Trump told the annual convention of the American Farm Bureau Federation. "Farm country is God’s country,” he declared..."Oh, are you happy you voted for me,” he added. “You are so lucky that I gave you that privilege."

While faster cellular tower placement is great and all, it doesn't solve the real problem in the sector: a lack of competition. FCC data indicates that two-thirds of American homes lack access to modern broadband (25 Mbps) from more than one ISP. Instead of addressing that problem, the Trump FCC has been actively working to undermine how broadband is measured in a blatant attempt to hide coverage and competition gaps. Trump's FCC has also started taking a hatchet to programs that help bring broadband to the poor, an increasing problem given that incumbent providers refuse to upgrade countless poor or rural markets.

Reuters' and other mainstream coverage of Trump's EO also ignores the countless problems that will be caused by the Trump administration's attack on net neutrality, elimination of consumer broadband privacy protections, or industry-backed efforts to gut nearly all meaningful oversight of entrenched telecom duopolies, something that history repeatedly tells us only makes service worse and more expensive. Unsurprisingly, reports fail to note the fact that the Trump FCC has taken steps to protect the entrenched monopoly at the heart of the cellular backhaul and business data services (BDS) markets, ensuring competition there remains tepid and cellular connectivity remains expensive.

Here's a tip: you'll know a politician's "broadband plan" is worth anything if it makes Comcast, AT&T and Verizon lawyers, lobbyists and lackeys angry. Any plan worth its salt would drive competition to the sector, eroding revenues for duopolies all-too-comfortable nursing the status quo. If they approve of it, it likely doesn't actually tackle the heart of the dysfunction that is the American broadband market.


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 10 Jan 2018 @ 11:37am

    There will be great competition in america by the end on 2018

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