New COVID Bill Includes Billions To Shore Up Broadband Access. But...

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

It's generally understood that the latest Congressional COVID relief package is the policy equivalent of a band-aid on a lost limb, and the $600 being doled out to struggling American families is a joke (especially compared with international public aid efforts). We're also only just starting to take inventory of how much padding and nonsense is buried in the bill that couldn't be shoveled through standalone bills due to its innate terribleness and grift.

But the bill did include a few helpful measures, including $7 billion to help shore up America's affordable broadband problem. $3.2 billion of that money will be aimed at keeping working families connected to the internet in a country where toddlers have had to huddle in the dirt outside of fast food restaurants just so they can attend class.

The bill provides a $50 a month emergency broadband benefit for anyone laid off or furloughed during the pandemic. Details are still forthcoming, but I'm assuming the effort will be built on the back of Lifeline, a low-income program begun by Reagan and expanded to cover wireless by Bush Junior. The program currently provides a measly $9.25 monthly subsidy low-income families have to spend on broadband, phone, or wireless service. In the last few years, Trump FCC boss Ajit Pai has repeatedly tried to kneecap the program despite it having broad, bipartisan support for decades.

Early reports indicate the bill also includes $1 billion in grants for Tribal broadband programs, $300 million for rural broadband deployment, $285 million to fund a pilot program to shore up broadband issues for communities near Black colleges and universities, and $65 million to help improve the FCC's notoriously shaky broadband availability maps.

These are all indisputably good things. Especially during a public health and economic crisis that has highlighted why broadband is essential for survival and opportunity. Something reflected in a statement by Oregon Senator Ron Wyden:

"Broadband connections are essential for Americans seeking to get new jobs, and to access school, health care and other government services. Ensuring working families can stay online will pay massive dividends for kids' education, helping people find jobs and jump starting the economic recovery next year."

But, as we've noted more than a few times, simply throwing more money at the U.S. broadband affordability and availability problem isn't going to fix it. Why? Because the problem has historically been corruption and monopolization. In short, a bunch of politically powerful telecom juggernauts (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast, Charter) have divided up the country into regional monopolies, then employ an army of lobbyists, think tankers, academics, consultants, lawmakers, and regulators whose entire function is to pretend this hasn't happened or isn't a problem so nobody gets the crazy idea to try and seriously fix it.

U.S. State and federal policymakers and lawmakers are so corrupt, we literally, repeatedly, let telecom monopolies write state and federal telecom law and policy. Proposals that, time and time again, are focused on hamstringing competition, undermining any creative attempt to disrupt the status quo, and undermining regulators tasked with protecting consumers, protecting and nurturing market competition, and expanding affordable access.

Subsidies can certainly be helpful. But without fixing the underlying corruption, you're never going to fix the real problem. Our broadband maps suck because incumbent lobbyists repeatedly scuttle efforts at better maps. Broadband access is still spotty after decades of efforts because we keep throwing billions at monopolies in exchange for fiber networks routinely only half deployed (usually with no serious penalties). Consumers suffer from high prices because our telecom regulator is a glorified rubber stamp for AT&T and Comcast and views things like consumer protection as an unnecessary hassle. Competitors and innovation suffers because regulators can't even admit the broadband sector isn't competitive.

So yeah, well-considered subsidization can certainly be helpful, and the $50 low income vouchers in particular can go a long way to helping slightly offset the issue. And the fact we got anything through this corrupt Congress is something to be thankful for. But the core issue remains monopolization and corruption, a problem the government, press, amd major policy voices aren't even capable of acknowledging half the time, much less offering meaningful solutions for. Until that changes, spotty, expensive broadband with abysmal customer service is going to be the norm (disproportionately impacting the unfortunate among us), and subsidization will be a band-aid, not a fix.

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Filed Under: broadband, covid, covid relief, digital divide


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  • icon
    ECA (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 12:45pm

    Would really like to know

    How much are our representatives getting paid, Fed, state and local.
    It cant be an amount greater then fixing things, could it?
    It couldnt be the reason that the costs are so high for cable TV, cellphones?
    It couldnt be the reason the USA services are the Not near the Top of tech nor REASONABLE priced.

    Capitalism has nothing to do with the nation. And if you want this to be the best, its NOT going to depend on THEM.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2020 @ 12:57pm

    Knowing how corrupt Congress and others are and how the telecom giants play the tunes, i dont believe that to be true in all cases. Surely there's one or more Congress persons who isn't accepting contributions from these and has the courage, the decency and the balls to tell it how it is and actually call the fuckers out, isn't there? If not, what's the point in it all anyway? We may just as well throw ourselves under the bus! At least that way they won't have the satisfaction of being able to say that they fucked us!

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 4:17pm

      Re:

      But thats what we need is a score card. There are Some, but they Arnt finding everything. There are to many ways to GIVE to them, even after its SUPPOSED to be controlled.
      The Worst part of this, tends to be WHO pays the police agencies TO monitor and arrest Us for it?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 Dec 2020 @ 1:14pm

    Funny how the measure buried in a must pass bill benefit the broadband industry and Hollywood. The cynical might think that it is a way of getting tax payers to pay for election campains via major contributors to those campaigns.

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

  • identicon
    Elfis, 21 Dec 2020 @ 3:36pm

    XMAS Pork Barrel

    this latest Congressional COVID relief package is standard pork barrel spending with lots of XMAS goodies for well connected special interests.

    Nobody asks where Congress is suddenly getting all this new money to hand out.

    Why does the Federal Government bother to collect any taxes if it can so easily come up with Trillions of Dollars from no where?

    Nobody asks Santa Claus how he gets all the great stuff to hand out -- and most Americans care not how Congress does its dirty fiscal magic.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 4:22pm

      Re: XMAS Pork Barrel

      Can I give you a better thought?
      How does an economy work, when the Gov. adds money to the system?
      More money into the system means Prices can go up. And thats how it is When they MAKE the money into the system. IF the money is WHAT we have already PAID into the system, Then why is 900 billion not ALL going to the citizens?
      Next year is going to be Very rough, with al the corps saying they DIDNT make any money. Let alone all those unemployed, even the ones NOT counted.

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

      • icon
        R.H. (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 11:21pm

        Re: Re: XMAS Pork Barrel

        Remember that prices only go up when adding money to the system if there are no additional products for that money to chase. Since most of the world has handled this pandemic better than we have and we import a large number of products, there are still plenty of items for our money to buy. Indeed, the expected inflation rate for this year was ~2.2% as of mid-April but, as of the end of last month, the actual rolling 12-month inflation rate was ~1.2%. That's why the federal reserve hasn't balked at printing money, they could probably create another $10 trillion or so without pushing the inflation rate up another full percent.

        The real questions we need to be asking are, after this is all said and done if the government can safely spend this much money into existence, why does the wealthiest nation on Earth not have healthcare, free at the point of service, for all of its citizens? Or, why does this wealthy nation still have so many impoverished citizens?

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

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 Dec 2020 @ 12:34am

          Re: Re: Re: XMAS Pork Barrel

          "...why does the wealthiest nation on Earth not have healthcare, free at the point of service, for all of its citizens? Or, why does this wealthy nation still have so many impoverished citizens?"

          I could add; Law enforcement standards fit for a banana republic, systemic racism fit for 1920 Germany; Dams, bridges, drinking water, power grid and assorted other infrastructure resembling that of Victorian England...

          Yeah, the trimming still looks nice and the window dressing is painstakingly maintained, but large parts of the US is effectively already the 3rd world. 20 or 30 years down the road if nothing seriously changes, it might end up the second coming of the USSR. It all depends on whether, when shit starts collapsing completely, what begins is a serious attempt to fix things at great cost, or a (short-term) vastly cheaper face-saving exercise of xenophobia, secrecy and isolationism.

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

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 21 Dec 2020 @ 11:09pm

      Re: XMAS Pork Barrel

      OK, I'll answer your questions. The United States has a sovereign floating currency backed by the "full faith and credit" of the United States government. This means that the US government can, and does, simply print new US dollars into existence. As for why they bother to collect taxes when they can just print money into existence. Have you heard of inflation? Federal taxation effectively destroys some of that printed money reducing supply and staving off inflation (or at least keeping it under control).

      In emergencies like the one we're in right now, it's safe to create a ton of money (in this case trillions of dollars) because otherwise, we'd see deflation caused by a lack of spending in the economy.

      The next question that most people ask concerns government debt but, that has another simple fix. The government could easily clear all of its debts by printing money. They don't for two reasons. The first is simply inflation. The second is that government debt is a very safe method for saving amounts of money that are too large to be placed in a bank account. Since the FDIC only insures accounts up to $250,000 any entity with more than that needs to have a place to safely put that money. The government simply provides a place to store that money.

      There are further explanations for other parts of this but, I am not an economist. This Twitter thread was written by an economist who was fed up with people who don't understand modern economics speaking as though they do and explaining everything from the top down. If you give it a read you'll understand where the money for government spending comes from.

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

      • icon
        ECA (profile), 22 Dec 2020 @ 1:29am

        Re: Re: XMAS Pork Barrel

        "Federal taxation effectively destroys some of that printed money reducing supply and staving off inflation (or at least keeping it under control)."

        NOT if there is NO competition.
        And I can counter that pretty easy. Go look at the cost of food on the stock exchange. Avg price for Just about everything, Hasnt GONE UP in many years, except potato's a few years back to an avg price of $0.03 per pound.
        I know what happens as I live out here in farming community. and the processing and Everything else, CANT mean charging 50 times the price for the LOWEST Price at the store for a 1 lb bag of frozen food.
        Also the USA has the Worst food stocks in the world. IMO. What they do to our MEATS should never happen.
        Then we Ship off about 60% of our food to other nations. But you should ask WHO PAYS FOR IT.

        I went thru the LAte 80's Employment cuts. Our store went from 500+ total to under 300 in 2 years. My JOB, went from being 1 persons work to doing 3 persons work.(aggravated my handicaps ALLOT).
        Then in 2000 it was the PUSH on the stock market that gave TONS more money to the corps, and watched that money NOT goto the stockholders, or buy backs.
        And just this year a person QUIT, after being berated for getting a 10% raise, that would be worth over 2 million per month.(love ATT).

        When over 1/2 this nation CANT even afford a Family home, one big enough to have friends over and NOT sleep in your bed.

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

  • icon
    Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 22 Dec 2020 @ 12:40am

    "As for why they bother to collect taxes when they can just print money into existence. Have you heard of inflation? Federal taxation effectively destroys some of that printed money reducing supply and staving off inflation (or at least keeping it under control)."

    The major world currencies all suffer from this. The US Dollar and the Euro alike in particular are kept afloat mainly by obfuscating or diverting inflation for as long as possible. It works until someone actually takes a look at what the mortgages and debt bills backing the long chain of loans and leases rely on for collateral..and then it all comes down when a bubble bursts right in the fundament of the major pension funds of a few countries.

    The US had the dubious pleasure of experiencing a small version of that in 2009. Both the US and the EU have far bigger bubbles building in their currency circulation system though, and I really don't want to be there once when it goes "POP" and pale-faced economists start revealing what the currency is actually worth.

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


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