Bernie's Broadband Plan Gives A Big Green Light To Community Broadband

from the dysfunction-junction dept

We've long noted how community broadband networks are often an organic response to the expensive, slow, or just-plain unavailable service that's the direct product of a broken telecom market and regulatory capture. While you'll occasionally see some deployment duds if the business models aren't well crafted, studies have shown such local networks (there are 750 and counting now in the States) offer cheaper, faster service than many incumbents. Chattanooga's EPB, for example, was rated the best ISP in America last year by Consumer Reports.

This direct grass roots threat to incumbent revenues is a major reason why ISP lobbyists have passed protectionist laws in around 20 states trying to block your town's ability to even consider the option. It's why industry cozy FCC officials have falsely tried to suggest community broadband is an ominous assault on free speech. And it's why you'll find an endless parade of telecom-linked think tankers, consultants, and lobbyists routinely trying to portray this organic response to market failure as "vile socialism" or an inevitable boondoggle.

Enter Bernie Sanders, whose new broadband plan was released last week and appears to have been cobbled together from the collected nightmares of AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast executives. The plan would not only restore the FCC's net neutrality authority and the agency's authority over ISPs in general, but it would restore the FCC's broadband privacy rules scuttled in 2017 by telecom lobbyists. It would also ban arbitrary and unnecessary broadband usage caps and overage fees, and ban the sneaky fees ISPs use to covertly jack up the advertised price post sale.

But the plan takes some extra time to highlight how a Sanders administration would embrace community broadband, including the elimination of protectionist state laws, and the doling out of $150 billion to be used largely toward building alternatives to the private sector telecom status quo:

"Municipalities across the country running their own internet services have proved they can deliver high-quality service at a fraction of the price of established monopolies. Cities can run their own networks just like a water or electric utility or build out an open access network to allow multiple providers to compete on price and service, rather than one or two conglomerates gouging customers and setting their own prices. Bernie believes it’s time to stop relying on profit-focused corporations to get to universal broadband. Bernie will provide the necessary funding for states, cities, and co-ops to build out their own broadband networks, and ensure all households are connected by the end of his first term."

Needless to say, the telecom sector isn't going to much like any of this. Especially given the fact that the sector has been immensely successful in convincing government to void all meaningful oversight of these natural monopolies in recent years. Yeah, most of this will never come to pass without a significant shake up in Congress. And yeah, telecom lobbyists will do everything in their power to scuttle Sanders before he ever reaches the Presidency. Still, it's pretty clear the Sanders team has been paying close attention to the broken sector and is at least offering up a proposal, whereas most other Democratic candidates (outside of perhaps Warren and Klobuchar) have offered little more than vagaries.

The proposal isn't without its problems. Several economists versed in telecom and media tell me that the proposals to retroactively break up giants like Comcast NBC Universal and AT&T Time Warner are little more than pipe dreams that would be logistical nightmares in actual practice. And the Sanders camp also oddly opposes so-called "one touch make ready" rules (which allow any qualified third party to move pole equipment instead of just incumbent ISPs) despite widespread support of such proposals (unions tell me "one touch" poses a safety and security risk, but those claims are hotly contested).

Still, the plan at least acknowledges the US telecom sector, which ranks in the middle in nearly every broadband metric that matters, is a broken mess thanks to consolidation, regulatory capture, limited competition, and corruption. That's something countless experts and lawmakers refuse to acknowledge. Bernie's plan is certainly no more ludicrous than the US' current and most favored approach: gutting regulatory oversight, throwing billions of unaccountable dollars at predatory monopolies, then standing around with a dumb look on our collective faces wondering why Comcast is such an immeasurable shitshow.

Filed Under: bernie sanders, broadband, competition, municipal broadband


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  1. icon
    Remi Qaine (profile), 13 Dec 2019 @ 1:54pm

    PUD Fiber networks rule

    A couple of counties in central washington created their own fiber optic push and have 80-90% coverage. They lease the lines to a couple local ISP's. The best part is that they are open gigabit pipes, no contract/quota/limits. I have 1gb down/ 100 up for $70/month


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