Biden Broadband Plan Embraces Community Broadband In Stark Contrast To Trump

from the build-it-and-they-will-come dept

Some 750 US communities have built some kind of locally owned and operated broadband network, usually in response to broadband market failure. Data has repeatedly shown that these networks usually not only offer faster, better service than the private sector, they frequently prompt apathetic local monopolies to actually try harder. That's not to say community broadband is a panacea for all US markets, but it's certainly an important part of the puzzle that is fixing the US' mediocre and expensive broadband access problem.

Yet during the Trump era, community broadband was treated like some kind of infectious disease.

FCC Commissioners could usually be found falsely trying to claim such networks posed a dire threat to free speech. More recently, the GOP tried to pass a bill that would have banned such networks entirely (during a pandemic no less). While this opposition is usually framed as a good faith concern about taxpayers (a concern that never manifests when an incumbent like AT&T gets billions in exchange for absolutely nothing), the reality is such folks really just don't like anything that interferes with the God-given revenues of deep-pocketed campaign contributors like Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon.

Enter the Biden administration's new broadband plan, which pledges to expand "future proof" (read: fiber) broadband access to the entirety of America within the next eight years. While notably vague on anything detailing how they'll actually accomplish or pay for this, the outline indicates the proposal, part of a much broader $2 trillion infrastructure initiative, specifically embraces community broadband as a cornerstone of these efforts:

"It also prioritizes support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives—providers with less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities."

Unlike many DC pundits, regulators, and politicians who find it challenging to do so, the plan clearly spells out how a lack of competition results in higher prices and substandard service, and that community broadband helps drive competition to lower ROI areas. The plan even singles out the twenty or so state laws, almost always ghost written by telecom monopolies, that block or hinder such networks (regardless of what local voters may want):

"President Biden’s plan will promote price transparency and competition among internet providers, including by lifting barriers that prevent municipally-owned or affiliated providers and rural electric co-ops from competing on an even playing field with private providers, and requiring internet providers to clearly disclose the prices they charge."

While the Biden team says it will take aim at these protectionist state restrictions, that may be easier said than done. When the FCC previously attempted to pre-empt such laws it was shot down by the courts, so it's not entirely clear how the Biden camp intends to do this. Still, the plan clearly acknowledges that you can't fix the US broadband problem by simply throwing more subsidies at entrenched monopolies. Companies with a comical record of not following through on network deployment promises that come on the heels of every tax break, subsidy, merger approval, or regulatory favor.

The other problem is that any plan that upsets entrenched telecom monopolies is going to have a hell of a time getting through a campaign-cash slathered Congress. COVID has done a great job forcing lawmakers to finally start doing more on the subject of affordable broadband, whether that means improving the US' crappy broadband maps, or updating the definition of broadband to something more fitting for the modern era. But we still aren't quite at the point where policymakers uniformly realize that US broadband sucks not just because of monopolization and limited competition, but also outright state and federal corruption.

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Filed Under: broadband, community broadband, competition, fcc


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2021 @ 7:26am

    Future-proof broadband? My Quantum Conduit broadband plan begs to differ! Our ability to connect any two points in spacetime with a broadband link will rule the industry.

    ... Once we get the price point below $2m per connection, that is. ... and maybe get the connection speed above 1 MB/S.

    Any day now. Any... day...

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

  • icon
    arp2 (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 7:49am

    Backbones?

    Municipal and coop broadband is great for last mile+, but we still need the supporting infrastructure to get good service to these ISPs. We've been throwing money at the major telco to do this for years and we have little to show for it. So unless we develop a backbone, or do the work ourselves (i.e. direct government oversight) I fear we won't get good backbones.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 10:51am

      Re: Backbones?

      That is true, we need Main fiber Lines to connect Each town, AT the least.
      Then the towns can handle the internal build ups.
      (anyone want to start a company?)
      There Are allot of Dead Fiber lines out there, the old stuff, thats Not been upgraded.
      It would also be NICE, to build the infrastructure to have it Fix/maintained/Upgraded easily. It might add tot he price, but makes things Cheaper LATER.
      What are the odds, that the Tier 1, Internet owners create a few companies to dot he work, and use that as Another write-off.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2021 @ 8:05am

    Elections have consequences.

    There was a lot of nonsense in 2016 about how Clinton and Trump were the same. In some ways, the parties are the same, they often take money from the same places, often support the same dumb ideas, "back doors to phones" and so forth.

    I can't say whether Clinton would have done what Biden's doing but I doubt very much that she'd have done much of what Trump did, or more accurately, didn't, at the policy level.

    In government, the weeds matter, and there's lots of weeds that need attention.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2021 @ 8:48am

    it's definitely about time a president and government did this! it's been far to long coming, far too long delayed in order to continue pleasing the likes of AT&T and Verizon and, dare i say it (yes, i dare!) members of the various governments who have been more interested in lining their own pockets with supposed 'campaign contributions' than standing up against the ISPs, for their citizens and bringing, not only decent broadband services into the USA but more importantly, bringing in COMPETITION, the only true thing that drives services and companies to be better, do more and for less! if Biden backs off because of lobbying and/or because of the bullshit, lies and pressure the ISPs etc bring to bear, he's no better than those who have gone before him!

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

    • icon
      arp2 (profile), 2 Apr 2021 @ 10:10am

      Re:

      Competition is difficult because of the high cost of entry and because states have written legislation to prevent competition. That's why municipalities, co-ops, etc. get involved. It's also because broadband is more and more a necessary utility, rather than a "nice to have" luxury.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 2 Apr 2021 @ 3:03pm

    Maybe the way to further motivate the large incumbent ISPs would be to calculate all the money they and their predecessors have gotten one way or another for expanding coverage, and threaten to take it all away (pfft, not even with interest) if they don't do what they damn well should have done already.

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

  • icon
    Wolfie0827 (profile), 3 Apr 2021 @ 8:57am

    Nothing?!?

    "While this opposition is usually framed as a good faith concern about taxpayers (a concern that never manifests when an incumbent like AT&T gets billions in exchange for absolutely nothing)"

    What do you mean "nothing", it's not easy carring sackloads of money up the Capitol steps to pay our employees.... I mean talk to our politicians.

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

  • identicon
    Team God, 4 Apr 2021 @ 12:00pm

    Well. The first mistake is believing either party of government has any care or desire for your best interests or health. In 2012 they passed a bill where the government can use propaganda against the American citizens. Propaganda simply means they by law are allowed to lie to you to steer your thoughts the way they want you to be thinking. Stop watching mainstream news totally and it won't take long before you will clearly see through the b.s. they haven't said a single sentence of truth to the public in years. Please do yourself some good and do a little research on your own my children don't deserve this life we've allowed to be built around us with a corrupt evil government dividing and conquering us. At best they'll grow up a slave to this totalitarian system of vomit you're allowing them to create. I don't care what color etc you are we need to get the real terrorists out of power

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


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