New Bill Would Prevent Comcast-Loyal States From Blocking Broadband Competition

from the when-Comcast-writes-the-law dept

We've long noted how state legislatures are so corrupt, they often quite literally let entrenched telecom operators write horrible, protectionist laws that hamstring competition. That's why there's now 21 states where companies like AT&T, Verizon and Comcast have successfully lobbied for laws banning towns and cities from building their own broadband networks, even in instances where the incumbent refuses to. In many states, these laws even ban public/private partnerships, often the only creative solution for better broadband in low ROI markets.

FCC efforts to pre-empt states from engaging in this kind of protectionism have been shot down by the courts, and voters continue to elect lawmakers whose top priority is protecting entrenched telecom duopolies, ensuring this cycle of pay-to-play dysfunction continues.

Occasionally lawmakers propose bills attempting to shake up this cronyism, but the ISP-stranglehold over lawmakers usually ensure they go nowhere. Case in point: Rep. Anna Eshoo has introduced the Community Broadband Act of 2018 (HR 4814), which would not only ban states from passing rules prohibiting community broadband, but would ensure that any community broadband networks that get built don't get preferential treatment by regulators if they compete with private-sector ISPs. As bill co-sponsor Mike Doyle notes, these networks are often the only way many towns and cities get decent service:

"All too often, communities around the country struggle to get service from private providers, and where people can get service all too often it’s too slow and costs too much,” Doyle said in a statement. “Communities that build out their own broadband networks offer competitive options that not only bring service to the unserved, but also promote competition in underserved areas."

AT&T, Verizon and Comcast's stranglehold over state and federal lawmakers ensures this effort will likely be killed in committee, just like the two previous efforts to pass such a law were (one by Eshoo last year, and another by Senator Cory Booker in 2016). Like net neutrality, having access to better, cheaper broadband has stupidly become a "partisan" issue thanks to ISPs eager to sow discord on the subject. And when it comes to municipal broadband, ISPs do so by framing the concept as automatic taxpayer boondoggles (actual residents tend to disagree).

Ignored in that argument is the fact that these towns and cities aren't getting into the broadband business because they think it's fun, they're doing so after decades of disgust at available private options. Also ignored is the fact that making local infrastructure decisions should be left up to the communities themselves, not competition-phobic Comcast executives sitting half a world away. If ISPs wanted to stop community broadband, they could offer better, cheaper service. Instead, lawsuits, disinformation, and protectionist state laws tend to be their option of choice.

Unfortunately for these ISPs, the attack on net neutrality is only driving more interest than ever in locally owned and operated creative alternatives to the broken status quo. And as the Trump administration rushes to remove all federal and state oversight of these uncompetitive duopolies, the resulting shit show will only make such options more appealing than ever to under-served communities.

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Filed Under: anna eshoo, broadband, competition, mike doyle, municipal broadband, states rights


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jan 2018 @ 8:41am

    There is, of course, another issue that can come up. If municipal broadband is the only option, they risk developing the same attitude as any other monopoly.

    The price of good broadband is eternal vigilance.

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