The House Has Proposed An Excellent Broadband Bill. Telecom Lobbyists Will Make Sure It Never Passes.

from the round-and-round-we-go dept

Last week the House unveiled (a previous version of this story incorrectly stated the bill had been passed) the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. The bill, which died last year after Mitch McConnell's Senate refused to hold a vote on it, includes a lot of great things, including spending $94 billion on expanding broadband into underserved areas. There's a ton of other helpful things in the proposal, like boosting the definition of broadband to 100 Mbps down (and upstream), requiring "dig once" policies that deploy fiber conduit alongside any new highway bills, and even a provision requiring the FCC to create rules forcing ISPs be transparent about how much they actually charge for monthly service.

A summary (pdf) of the bill offers some additional detail, such as the fact the bill includes a mandate that the government (specifically the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the NTIA) more fully study the impact of affordability on broadband access. In the wake of allegations that the FCC's subsidy auction process is a corrupted and exploited mess, the law also lays down a lot of groundwork to make the subsidization of broadband access more transparent, equitable, and accountable to genuine oversight with an eye on affordability (instead of exclusively focusing on access, which is the DC norm):

"The section also establishes certain requirements for projects funded under the program, including offering broadband service that provides at least 100/100Mbps with sufficiently low latency, offering broadband service at prices that are comparable to, or lower than, the prices charged for comparable service, and offering an affordable service plan. All bidders must meet objective, transparent criteria upfront that demonstrates technical and operational capacity to implement winning projects."

There's several other common sense proposals in the bill, like giving schools and libraries more leeway to use E-Rate funding to help shore up broadband access during the pandemic. I remain nervous about throwing billions in additional subsidies at the industry when the government still can't accurately map where broadband is or isn't available. Many of the same folks who view subsidization as a silver bullet (Democrat and Republican alike) still can't even acknowledge that the two major contributors to US broadband sucking is monopolization, and state and federal corruption. Problems we seem intent on barely acknowledging, much less addressing.

Still, this is a genuinely good bill that includes a lot of common sense solutions for a problem that has taken on greater urgency during a public health crisis. Much like the last time the bill is likely to pass the House, then get blocked in the Senate. It seems unlikely this would win a straight 60 vote majority without demolishing the filibuster or burying it in some broader, much larger infrastructure bill, which seems increasingly possible.

For one thing, broadband monopolies will fight tooth and nail against any effort to increase the standard definition of broadband, just like the last few times the FCC has considered it. Sharing more data on pricing, and boosting the definition of broadband to symmetrical 100 Mbps will only highlight how feckless regulators and monopolization have muted competition, resulting in spotty coverage, high prices, and slow speeds. Make that data far more transparent and accessible, and somebody might just get the kooky idea to genuinely do something about it, and we can't have that.

There's several other things included in the bill that the telecom lobby will simply never allow, like a more competitive and transparent grant and subsidy process, which might (gasp) result in more federal funding going to smaller competitors. There's also some language that requires paying a competitive rate and not scuttling unionization efforts the industry (and its congressional BFFs) will never tolerate. I guess the Democrats assume that because Covid is adding historic pressure on lawmakers to do more about broadband, they can somehow get the GOP (and centrist Democrat) votes needed to push this across the finish line.

But that seems to ignore forty years of history showing that the GOP --and more than a few Democrats-- are opposed to absolutely anything that genuinely holds trusted intelligence partners like AT&T accountable, anything that brings transparency to advertising or pricing, anything that genuinely protects consumers from monopoly harms (be it privacy violations or net neutrality), or anything that even remotely risks hurting incumbent revenues and regional dominance by driving more competition to market. I don't see that suddenly changing here, though I'd love to be surprised.

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Filed Under: broadband, congress, digital divide, funding, house, senate


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2021 @ 5:53am

    "will only highlight how feckless regulators"

    Well, that explains how no one seems to give a feck.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2021 @ 8:12am

    Is bandwidth symmetry really useful?

    I can easily think of many uses where 100 Mbps down is useful (a household where two or three movies are streaming comes to mind), I find it harder to think of use cases where 100 Mbps are as useful. It's grossly insufficient for a website that has any risk of popularity, while it's massively excessive for video conferencing (even with two or three concurrent streams). About the only real use I can think of would be for frequent large file upload, which isn't that common a need.

    Not that I would object to 100 Mbps upload speed, it's just that for most I would imagine that other factors, like consistently low latency and connection would be more important than bandwidth symmetry, if download speed is adequate/

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2021 @ 8:31am

      Re: Is bandwidth symmetry really useful?

      About the only real use I can think of would be for frequent large file upload, which isn't that common a need.

      Anybody interested n self publishing via YouTube, twitch, etc. especially when you want to upload the highest resolution you can. Better upload speeds mean more people will self publish, while uploading overnight because of low speeds puts some people off.

      I can also see virtual workspaces being developed to reduce the loneliness of working from home. Little interaction most of the time, but making it easy to ask questions, or just joining someone for a coffee and a chat.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2021 @ 8:36am

      Re: Is bandwidth symmetry really useful?

      As a Twitch streamer and cloud backup user, I would love to have 100Mbps up without getting a business level connection.

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

    • identicon
      spodula, 15 Mar 2021 @ 10:21am

      Re: Is bandwidth symmetry really useful?

      Whats what people said about ISDN in the Dial-up days.
      There will be uses in 10 years. What they are, who can say?

      Saying that i would love a better upload connection for dealing with Teams et al.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2021 @ 12:15pm

        Re: Re: Is bandwidth symmetry really useful?

        Whats what people said about ISDN in the Dial-up days.

        What? No, nobody was saying that. Dialup speed was quite fine for non-filesharing BBSes. But it was always too slow when downloading or uploading files to BBSes or doing almost anything on the internet. Everyone I know would have loved to have ISDN, but the cost structure was insane in North America. So, we'd often be up late after the family went to bed, or maybe leaving a game to download all night, such that the phone line would be freed up for daytime calls.

        In those days, one could buy an unlimited dialup internet connection and use it for 744 hours a month with no further costs. ISDN billed by the minute. I know only one person who ever had it, only because a parent worked for the phone company and got it for free. But in areas where local calls were billed by the minute, inculding Germany, ISDN was actually popular.

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

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 15 Mar 2021 @ 10:40am

      Re: Is bandwidth symmetry really useful?

      "About the only real use I can think of would be for frequent large file upload, which isn't that common a need."

      Depends on who you are. If you're working from home and you need to make regular changes to large files that are synced to network storage, I can imagine it becomes very important rather quickly - and it another example of a digital divide needlessly introduced between people of certain communities. I would guess that anyone wanting to get intro video streaming would have a need for it as well.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2021 @ 12:28pm

      Re: Is bandwidth symmetry really useful?

      I find it harder to think of use cases where 100 Mbps [upstream] are as useful.

      I kind of agree. Even 10-20 Mbps downstream is fine for me. Way faster than the dialup I grew up with. Sure, I might leave a 4K movie downloading for 10 hours, but do I really need to do that more than 70 times in a month? Who has the hard drive space? (Streaming, of course, is just downloading with insufficient buffering, followed by deletion—silly.)

      But the technology is there. VDSL2 and DOCSIS3 have both been able to do 100 Mbps upstream for the last 15 years. DOCSIS3.1 from 2013 can do 2 Gbps upstream—DOCSIS4, 6 Gbps—and, well, the incumbent telcos have gotten decades of use from their copper and can upgrade to fiber. The nation should have goals that look toward the future, and this bill only takes us to 2006. I'm glad some people driving demand for faster connections, even if I'm now content to lag behind them by a decade.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2021 @ 8:30am

    when lobbying costs lives, people doing that and the companies they are doing it for should be held accountable! everyone knows the USA broadband industry is the worst there is, giving the worst possible service for the most money, a hell of a lot of which is handed to them from public money by politicians who are so interested in lining their own pockets they'll do anything to continue doing so!

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Mar 2021 @ 8:38am

      Re:

      This sounds a lot like my wife, and while I agree in principle, in pratice I have to ask "who is going to hold these people accountable?". If you can't come up with a mechanism to enact and enforce this accountability in the real world, all you are doing is complaining to no good purpose. You may feel better, but you really don't help anyone else.

      It's actually a little depressing to realize how many good and useful ideas will never be realized because of the corrupt state of modern, particularly US, politics. On the bright side, though, it also prevents some truly awful ideas from being realized (though unfortunately, far from all such terrible ideas).

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

  • icon
    jfromo (profile), 15 Mar 2021 @ 10:16am

    Nice summary. But, the post mischaracterizes the status of the bill. The bill has only been introduced and assigned to committee-not passed by the full House. Same was true of the same bill last session so, as much as it would be very much in character for Mitch McConnell to refuse to consider a bill that would improve the lives of a lot of Americans, he never had a chance to block it.

    The good news is that you can call your Congressperson to ask them to support it.

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

  • icon
    Thad (profile), 15 Mar 2021 @ 10:27am

    Unfortunately, much like the last time it moved through the House, it's unlikely to survive a telecom-cash slathered Senate. At least not on a straight 60 vote majority without demolishing the filibuster or burying it in some broader, much larger bill.

    That's not really unique to this topic, though; that's going to be the case for nearly all legislation for the remainder of this term. While there are some exceptions -- the recent relief bill passed under budget reconciliation rules which only require a simple majority -- major legislation is basically DOA in the Senate unless the Democrats enact filibuster reform.

    Manchin has recently teased that he might support changing the rules to bring back the standing filibuster. So it could happen. But short of that, I wouldn't expect much of anything to pass this Senate.

    And of course even bills that can pass on a simple majority still need the support of either conservative Democrats like Manchin and Sinema, or for Republicans to break with their party. So whatever does pass the Senate, expect it to have some compromises compared to the House version.

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

  • identicon
    Glenn, 15 Mar 2021 @ 12:09pm

    Yep, the AT&Ts and Comcasts have paid good money for their monopolies, and their pocketed legislators don't want to see the gravy train ended just because the people who put them in office want them to start doing their job.

    Maybe next term.

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

  • icon
    ECA (profile), 15 Mar 2021 @ 12:39pm

    So ?

    How is the gov. going to Monitor What is/isnt happening Out in the wild of the population when it cant/dont know What is/isnt ALREADY done and setup to work?

    I still get a Great feeling that the Tier 1 sections each has control over hasnt been updated, and/or completed. No independent company of gov agency has had time to go out and LOOK.

    A Gov. agency that Wont LEAVE the office to do a job or at least Call a company to DO the job for them, ISNT DOING ITS JOB.

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


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