Last Minute Addition To Louisiana Bill Hamstrings Community Broadband

from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept

We've long noted that roughly twenty states have passed laws either outright banning community broadband, or tightly restricting such efforts. The vast majority of the time these bills are literally written by telecom lobbyists and lawyers for companies like AT&T and Comcast. While the bills are usually presented by lawmakers as an earnest concern about taxpayer boondoggles, the real motivation usually is the prevention of any disruption of their cozy geographical monopolies/duopolies.

In some states, community broadband is being offered via the local power utility. That's the case in Tennessee, where Chattanooga-based EPB has been prohibited from expanding despite the overall lack of competitive options in the state -- and despite EPB having been rated one of the best ISPs in America. When ISPs can't get straight out bans passed via state legislature, they'll usually trying to bury such restrictions in unrelated bills, such as when AT&T tried to include community broadband restrictions in an unrelated Missouri traffic ordinance.

Hugely frustrated by substandard service and a lack of broadband competition, more than 750 communities around the country have built some sort of community broadband network. But even when legislation intended to help them is proposed, it's an uphill battle to try and keep entrenched telecom lobbyists from making the bills worse. Case in point: Louisiana is considering Senate Bill 407, which would let utilities expand broadband to their rural customers. But provisions buried in the bill at the last second restrict utilities from offering broadband anywhere an incumbent already offers service:

"Jeff Arnold, who heads the Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives, said they supported the bill until wording was added that wouldn’t allow co-ops to sell broadband to their electricity customers who are mapped in areas as already served by broadband. “The language would restrict us from competing with others in the broadband market but would not stop them from cherry picking (customers) from cooperatives who choose to get in the broadband market,” said Arnold, who as legislator years ago chaired the Commerce committee."

The problem: less than 13% of Louisiana lacks any broadband access whatsoever. The other problem: the FCC's broadband mapping data has long been maligned as not accurate whatsoever, meaning these restrictions won't be based in, you know, factual reality. And one last problem: while many people can "access broadband," in reality this usually means just one telco (with un-upgraded DSL lines and sky high prices) or one local cable monopoly with sky high prices (usually Comcast or Spectrum). In short, the ban would effectively ban competition, something there's simply too little of.

And as the folks at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance (ILSR) note, such restrictions also threaten the financial stability of such efforts, given it takes away more profitable customers in more populated areas:

"Not only will this prevent broadband competition in rural Louisiana, but it could also undercut the feasibility of rural electric co-op projects in unserved areas. To make broadband networks financially possible, co-ops often need to balance low density areas with more populated communities. Otherwise, cooperatives might not be able to connect the most rural and unserved parts of their service territory — especially since co-ops can’t (and don’t want to) subsidize broadband projects with funds from their electric operations. Furthermore, as Arnold pointed out, SB 406’s new provisions put electric cooperatives at the whim of broadband providers that might choose to expand in only the most profitable parts of the state, making the most difficult to connect communities even harder to serve."

Again, incumbent ISPs (and the lawmakers, consultants, and other experts paid to love them) have spent twenty years falsely claiming community broadband is an inevitable taxpayer boondoggle, despite that simply not being true (you'll almost never see these same folks complaining about the billions thrown at giants like AT&T in exchange for absolutely nothing). But as always, these towns and cities wouldn't be getting into the broadband business if locals were happy with what's on offer. And with 42 million Americans lacking any broadband at all, the country needs all the creative alternatives it can get.

Filed Under: broadband, competition, louisiana, muni-broadband


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2020 @ 5:47pm

    WTF are AT&T and verizon upto?

    they don't want broadband to large swathes of the USA, not their own, not someone elses.

    It almost looks like they're working for a foreign power harming the US.

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

    • icon
      Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 29 May 2020 @ 6:23pm

      Re:

      To the existing telecoms and other commercial broadband providers, community based broadband is a threat. Give them an inch and they will take a mile.

      Besides, from what we hear, the community based systems not only have a better connection, they have better customer service and better prices. Which leaves the existing telecom and broadband providers afraid. Very afraid.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2020 @ 7:46pm

      Re:

      This is a U.S. tradition. The telcos did it before there was internet. And all the telcos and ISPs have been subsidized (directly and indirectly) to do just that, since forever.

      Corporations and their government allies have always been foreign powers looking to badly use the public, thereby harming (by collateral damage or intentionally) it.

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

      • icon
        Ehud Gavron (profile), 29 May 2020 @ 8:14pm

        ISPs being subsidized

        And all the telcos and ISPs have been subsidized (directly and indirectly) to do just that, since forever.

        If a school or a library needs Internet service, they apply for an E-rate grant from the USAC. USAC gets money from fees tacked on to every interstate telco bill.

        That is indeed subsidizing. On the other hand that doesn't make it a "a bad thing" if kids have access to education on their [grant provided] iPads, or if libraries can do e-loans of books.

        https://www.usac.org/e-rate/

        E

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 8:52am

          Re: ISPs being subsidized

          And that is an absolutely appropriate edge case, unlike all the billions they got for connnecting unserved areas which they then didn't serve.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 7:23am

        Re: Corporations and their government allies

        yeah, it should be crystal clear by now that government officials and private special interests ROUTINELY collaborate against the general public... on this broadband issue -- and another thousand different issues.

        But the mystical faith in overall government-goodness and the magical powers of the Regulatory-State... blind most people to the fundamental nature of this situation.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2020 @ 5:37pm

          Re: Re: Corporations and their government allies

          The mystical faith that the lack of any governance or regulation is in any way better is hilarious.

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

    • icon
      Bloof (profile), 30 May 2020 @ 3:53am

      Re:

      They're hoping that if they can block community broadband, eventually a democrat president will pay them to start expanding rural broadband as part of a 'compromise' infrastructure stimulus bill with Republicans. They get free money and get to expand their fiefdoms.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 7:22am

        Re: Re:

        "pay them to start expanding rural broadband "

        Yeah, they could charge a fee on your bill like the phone companies do ... but they never spent that money on what they were supposed to and I see nothing to stop them from doing it all over again.
        woohoo

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2020 @ 6:18pm

    Broadband has always been a sanctioned regime in the US.

    Like human trafficking....

    There are legitimate uses for it but it seems to evade regulatory oversight too much to be legalized in its current form.

    It's always that last mile problem in the wireless link

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 7:23am

      Re:

      "Like human trafficking.... There are legitimate uses for it"

      Really now - Got any examples?

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 7:38am

        Re: Re:

        Speeding? Jaywalking? Dealing with the legal part of an otherwise unlawful organization for humanitarian reasons.

        All kinds of things if you look through those difficult to enforce laws.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 10:43am

          Re: Re: Re:

          How do any of those examples legitimize human trafficking?

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

          • identicon
            Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 12:36pm

            Re: Re: Re: Re:

            You are missing the joke in the reply, and you missed the simple case of unclear / poor construction in the post to which you originally replied.

            No on thought there are legitimate uses of human trafficking. This would be an entirely odd way to state a pro-slavery argument anyway.

            On the other hand...
            Not everything labeled as "human trafficking" is equal. Help someone across a national border or borders, even as a humanitarian and not an extortionist meat-packer? Human trafficker. So there is a "valid use case", given definitions people use these days. (Also, any kind of sex mentioned online is "human trafficking" to some people, so there's that too.)

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

            • identicon
              Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 5:37pm

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

              Knew I missed something, it's still not clear but I don't care

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

              • identicon
                Anonymous Coward, 31 May 2020 @ 5:47pm

                Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

                Yeah. it was just weird sentence order in that post, and easily read in the manner in which you interpreted it. From the overall context i just see that justification of slavery / human trafficking is not intended.

                It was about the preceding "sanctioned regime" bit (our culture and history), and not about the following "legitimate uses" bit. Unless the poster was referring to doing things of one's own free will which some people like to lump under "trafficking" due two an own agenda.

                ¯_㋡_/¯

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 29 May 2020 @ 7:37pm

    AT&T says...

    People in Louisiana aren't poor enough yet.

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

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 30 May 2020 @ 2:01am

    'No no, we in Louisiana are firmly against competition.'

    Case in point: Louisiana is considering Senate Bill 407, which would let utilities expand broadband to their rural customers. But provisions buried in the bill at the last second restrict utilities from offering broadband anywhere an incumbent already offers service:

    Well damn, spoke too soon, looks like someone actually is trying to make 'felony interference with a business model' an actual law on the books, contrary to my mostly sarcastic comment elsewhere.

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

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    time to get the guns out, 30 May 2020 @ 4:31am

    murder the idiots

    really seriously murder these thugs now and kill all politicians who support those thugs. kill all idiots or you will kill america. kill kill kill kill kill

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

  • identicon
    Dave, 30 May 2020 @ 5:58am

    And capitalist dictatorship strikes again.

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

  • icon
    xyzzy (profile), 30 May 2020 @ 7:12am

    AT&T no more

    Here in the benighted state of North Carolina we have had such restrictive regulations since 2011, see https://www.ncleg.net/Sessions/2011/Bills/House/PDF/H129v7.pdf

    Now we are fighting to obtain some relief. Since early 2019 a bill, known as the Fiber NC Act see https://www.ncleg.gov/BillLookUp/2019/H431 has been under consideration, it has met with the predictable industry FUD and is stalled. Even if that makes it through, it is hamstrung with various restrictions.

    I am fortunate enough to live in an urban area, with some modicum of broadband competition, I had a choice of two, Spectrum and AT&T, but now three as Google Fiber are in the mix. I am much more fortunate than large swathes of this state.

    AT&Ts monthly rate was $100, Google $70, however, I noted that AT&T applied a "special discount" that meant they were effectively matching the Google price. I can see that discount going away real soon, were it not for Googles continued presence.

    As soon as I could, I dropped AT&T, and moved to Google. Good riddance AT&T.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 8:56am

    I can kind of understand the unfairness if a private business having to compete a government backed service. So, how about a prohibition against community broadband in any area with at least one (or, God forbid, two!) ISPs with customer satisfaction ratings above 50 percent?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 10:46am

      Re:

      How about we end the corrupt practices?

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

    • identicon
      Rocky, 30 May 2020 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      Why is it unfair?

      If the residents in a community want to use their tax money to build out community broadband, why do private companies interests outweigh that?

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 30 May 2020 @ 12:41pm

      Re:

      Yeah, totes unfair for a government-run ISP, by voter choice, competes with a more heavily goverment-subsidized (not by voter choice) multi-billion dollar giant corporation with high rates and atrocious customer service and probably no other competition.

      I can see the unfairness there.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 30 May 2020 @ 12:45pm

    Love the idea..

    No one can Dis-prove the maps created by the Corps. Created when Cellphones were VERY basic, the system had Holes in it, they didnt even cover the freeway system.

    Everyone knows they wrong. Except those that have top Prove it to the Ruling factions. The ones Living and breathing BS, believing everything they are paid to believe.

    When in hell, did anyone believe that capitalism isnt doing the best for itself? Lying, cheating, stealing, to get ahead.

    What do you think about the USA closing up, and Stopping imports from China? A country that we Borrowed Trillions, to goto war from. Did it inspire any corp to stand up and start Business in the USA?? Or just complain that China Stole our Copyrights.

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

  • icon
    techturf (profile), 1 Jun 2020 @ 10:02am

    I say fine.

    I think any law or regulation which limits competition is just fine, as long as the industry that the law protects then is regulated as a public utility. I am as free market as they come, but the minute you pass one law limiting competition, the benefactor of that law should be highly regulated, like any public utility.

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


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