Ohio Republicans Are Using State Budget Battle To Kill Community Broadband

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

Frustrated by high prices, a lack of competition, spotty coverage, and terrible customer service, some 750 US towns and cities have built some form of community owned and operated broadband network. While not some silver bullet, studies have shown these networks often provider faster, cheaper, better service than most apathetic regional telecom monopolies. They also tend to put money back into the local community, as well as being somewhat more accountable given they're run by folks with a vested interest in the community they live in.

Instead of preventing such efforts by offering better, faster, cheaper service, giant regional mono/duopolies ISPs like AT&T, Charter, and Comcast have historically found it cheaper to write and lobby easily corruptible state lawmakers. There are currently laws in 17 states either hamstringing or outright banning cities from building their own networks, almost all of them ghost written by industry.

As COVID highlighted the essential nature of broadband, some states have realized the counterproductive nature of such proposals. For example Arkansas and Washington both eliminated their state restrictions earlier this year, arguing that such creative, local niche solutions can go a long way in shoring up access and lowering prices.

But Ohio is taking a different tack. State Republicans embedded a new amendment in the state budget earlier this month that would effectively outlaw community broadband in the state. The provision is so unpopular among consumers, none of the Republicans pushing for it are willing to affix their name to it:

"On June 9, the Ohio Senate approved a new budget bill. But a last-minute amendment shoveled into the bill is angering state residents and locally-owned ISPs, who say it’s an underhanded effort by AT&T and Charter to protect their regional broadband monopolies...Ohio’s restrictions were implemented without any public notice or input. One local Cleveland outlet noted that the effort is so unpopular, Ohio Republicans sponsoring the amendment are refusing to even officially acknowledge their support.

Like many ISP-backed proposals, it's a "death by a thousand cuts" approach that pretends to not be an outright ban. The Ohio restrictions would for example prohibit the building of any community broadband in areas where 10 Mbps down, 1 Mbps up broadband is already available. But such a standard doesn't even meet the FCC's already fairly pathetic definition of broadband (25 Mbps down, 3 Mbps up), and given that expensive, capped satellite broadband is available in most areas, it allows a regional cable broadband monopoly like Charter to proclaim most places as already "served," and therefore bans community broadband.

The restrictions also prohibit any community-owned and operated ISP from utilizing taxpayer resources (even if voters wanted to), as well as prohibiting such operations from using federal money to fund operations (something that undermines the point of many COVID relief initiatives, and attempts to scuttle planned community broadband funding in the looming Biden broadband plan). While nobody wants to acknowledge their support of the amendment, several Ohio lawmakers previously worked on government policy and lobbying for Time Warner Cable, now Charter.

If you sit down with most voters and ask them whether Comcast or AT&T should be dictating what their town or city can or can't do with their own infrastructure and resources, they'd quite correctly tell you that AT&T and Comcast should go to hell. So instead, large ISPs hire an army of economists, consultants, and think tankers (usually via dodgy proxy organizations with names like "Very Sincere Taxpayer Lovers United") happy to try and claim that community broadband is always a taxpayer boondoggle -- unnecessary because private sector US broadband is just that innovative and wonderful.

Most of these critics fixate relentlessly on the idea that community broadband is "government run amok" (it's not) or "socialism" (it's not, many such efforts are public/private partnerships or utility backed), while ignoring that incumbent ISPs like AT&T are not only bone grafted to the government (see: the NSA) but get countless billions in tax cuts, subsidies, and regulatory favors in exchange for fiber networks that always mysteriously wind up half deployed.

As in, these telecom-backed stunt policy groups and consultants really care about taxpayer waste when it's a frustrated town and city forced to get into the broadband business due to market failure, yet disappear from the conversation entirely when it comes to discussing how far, far more state and federal taxpayer money is going to giant national ISPs which then waste it with minimal accountability.

But honestly Ohio Republicans couldn't even be bothered to take this usual disingenuous route. They just shoveled Charter and AT&T's agenda into a budget bill without telling the public, and hoped nobody would really notice. The Ohio House and Senate now have until June 30 to reconcile House and Senate budget bills and strip out the offending language. Local community owned ISPs like Fairlawn Gig (which runs on the back of a local utility) are begging Ohio residents to call their representatives to complain, but it's not sure their concerns will be heard over the din of the daily US news cycle.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: community broadband, competition, ohio


Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread


  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 22 Jun 2021 @ 9:18am

    'If it's not one of you it's all of you'

    Ohio’s restrictions were implemented without any public notice or input. One local Cleveland outlet noted that the effort is so unpopular, Ohio Republicans sponsoring the amendment are refusing to even officially acknowledge their support.

    Seems there's only one reasonable response to such a grossly dishonest action then, blame all of them until it's removed. If they want to hide who slipped the clause in then every last one of them should be assumed to be guilty of doing so or assumed to support the person(s) responsible since if they had a problem with it they'd have objected or be pushing to gut that clause.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 22 Jun 2021 @ 12:12pm

      Re: 'If it's not one of you it's all of you'

      Can I add a few notes? Term length: 4 years Term limits: 2 terms (8 years) Ohio has a Republican state government trifecta. A trifecta exists when one political party simultaneously holds the governor’s office and majorities in both state legislative chambers. As of June 22, 2021, there are 23 Republican trifectas, 15 Democratic trifectas, and 12 divided governments where neither party holds trifecta control. They have been controlled by Repubs, before history decided to be called history. Then can we find out what they mean by Political subdivision?

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2021 @ 11:42am

    If no one added the amendment it must be a mistake

    Should be easy to remove... just ask a simple question... who did this?
    If no one owns up just strip the amendment as it must have been a mistake.
    And then pass a rule... if there is no way to trace the hack that put added the amendment then it is null and void and not included. These are lawmakers that supposedly work for the people that elected them. Last I checked, event though corps are "people", none of those "people" actually voted.

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

    • icon
      ECA (profile), 22 Jun 2021 @ 12:19pm

      Re: If no one added the amendment it must be a mistake

      people got board.
      People got the idea that 'They are supposed to represent them, Properly.
      People forgot, that Idiots only do what they are told.
      People forgot to send Letters to the representatives.
      People forgot that WE are responsible For our gov.
      People that dont have good internet, tend to not NOTICE, you can Contact your Government.
      Corps love People.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2021 @ 2:09pm

      Re: If no one added the amendment it must be a mistake

      Uh, uh, the ahh budget bill was hacked! That's it. It was hacked. But we uhhh, are not going to do anything about it.

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

  • icon
    sumgai (profile), 22 Jun 2021 @ 2:42pm

    .... but it's not sure their concerns will be heard over the din of the daily ration of coins hitting the wallet, due to "campaign donations."

    T, FTFY

    *Note to whoever's in charge: We need the strikethrough codes to work, as called for in the standard Markdown langauge - double tilde marks (~~) before and after, just like the asterisk for italics. I wanted to write the word "graft" before "campaign donations", with an obvious strikethrough.

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

    • icon
      R.H. (profile), 22 Jun 2021 @ 9:48pm

      Re:

      John Gruber's original Markdown syntax doesn't actually support strikethrough (even though many forks do). TechDirt seems to use CommonMark and there's a long-running argument in their feature requests (the first post in that thread was in October 2014 with the most recent being this February) about whether or not to add strikethrough.

      Put simply, it's unfortunately not as simple as you may think to just "add strikethrough support".

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

      • icon
        sumgai (profile), 24 Jun 2021 @ 4:08pm

        Re: Re:

        R.H.

        Thanks for that link, I was unaware of that particular conversation. And sadly, I have to admit that I know at two of those participants, from other sites.

        But the fact remains - a person or a team that writes a language has the ability to include or exclude whatever they wish. Users, such as Mike and TD, don't have any more "say" in the matter than what a 'suggestion box' might permit... all of that is true. But in the end, ease of implementation is not at issue - that's simply a programming design goal, subject to the same compromises as any other goal.

        My argument would be (and since that particular discussion took place nearly 9 years ago!), the basic "CommonMark Standard" really should've been decided by now. Overwhelmingly, stating that the strikethrough is a crutch for those who are lexicologically challenged is an insult, nothing more. If even a modest segment of users request a "feature", then serious thought should be given to the idea, and not flippantly dismissed with "let's get the basics settled first". That was stated in a civil manner, but it wasn't actually civil... at least not in my mind.

        Mike (or other responsible parties) might wish to discuss and investigate use a different Markdown implementation, one that includes my requested feature, or they might not, either way is cool with me. But if I don't ask, it's a sure bet that the feature will never show up. At least not in my remaining lifetime, if that 9-year-old conversation is any indication of how fast things happen. ;)

        Let me close with another thanks for that link and site, I'll be habituating that domain more often, trust me.

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

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 25 Jun 2021 @ 6:27am

          Re: Re: Re:

          The Unicode ̶s̶t̶r̶i̶k̶e̶t̶h̶r̶o̶̶ug̶h character, U+336, strikes through the next character. Using it directly is a bit cumbersome, as it is needed before every character to be struck through, but it works.

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

  • icon
    JBDragon (profile), 22 Jun 2021 @ 4:11pm

    Get Government out!

    I'm really not for these Local City's having their own Broadband service. Now it's basically a Government monopoly. I get that service stinks.

    The Republicans are part wrong in this matter. It's the government that created these Monopolies in the first place. This is why you only have Comcast in these areas and TWC in these other areas and so on and so on. There is no competition. I saw what happened when Google Fiber was coming along. Besides doing all they could to stop it, they increased speeds and dropped prices!!!! Because they had competition!!!

    I say let Comcast, TWC, AT&T, and anyone else who wants to bring in broadband to any and all cities. Make it much easier for companies to come in and hang their wires. Coax or Fiber. Let's have 2,3,4+ company's fighting it out for every last customer. That means dropping caps, Dropping prices, faster speeds. Better customer service!!!

    The government created this mess by listening to these company's in the first place and letting them set the rules and have their way. Nothing has changed. When these company's get special deals if they do such and such and they don't do it, nothing happens to them!!!! Why???

    So I find it hard to believe a Government-run system is going to be any better in the long term.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2021 @ 6:15pm

      Re: Get Government out!

      I'm really not for these Local City's having their own Broadband service. Now it's basically a Government monopoly. … Let's have 2,3,4+ company's fighting it out for every last customer.

      There are certainly community broadband designs that allow this, including in Ammon, Ohio where one signs up for a private ISP that uses the city's network. Not all that different from the dialup days, where anyone could set up an ISP without worrying about any infrastructure beyond the modems in their office. Another model is that the city runs a fiber line, or a conduit, from every house to various "central office"-type buildings, in which ISPs can lease space for their OLTs. A big benefit with this one is that the cities don't have to stay "up to date" with any technology beyond ditch-diggers: they don't own or manage any network equipment. (A fiber line can carry terabits per second, if one is willing to pay for the right equipment at both ends. There's no real concern the fiber will become outdated.)

      Don't buy into the arguments from incumbent ISPs who more or less equate municipal broadband with a government takeover of the internet. They're trying to keep capital and bureaucratic costs high, to prevent new competitors from springing into existence. It seems that most markets can only support about 2-4 networks coming into each residence (and the incumbents are already there!); overbuilding is just not a particularly efficient use of resources.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2021 @ 3:38am

      Re: Get Government out!

      Let's have 2,3,4+ company's fighting it out for every last customer.

      Does that mean every company runs fibre to every house in a city? Does every company overbuild to allow for future expansion? Who decides who goes first when multiple trucks turn up to repair the broken fibres from where someone drove a 40 tonner over a pole? What happens to their fibre when the bottom company folds, as the other do not need it?

      The sensible solution is a regulated monopoly for the infrastructure, and competition at the ISP level using that Infrastructure.

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

  • identicon
    Pixelation, 22 Jun 2021 @ 6:11pm

    Republicans

    For a group that claims to be "less government is more", and, "let the market decide", they sure are not willing to allow either. Almost as if they are disingenuous...

    I guess that isn't too surprising, considering who their poster boy is.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2021 @ 7:29pm

    You know, in the past something happened when people found they were being taxed with no representation. Happened over tea.

    Now you have another item where the people don't have realistic representation. How long before they decide a similar action is seen as the solution?

    While I'm not for such, it seems that it may wind up being the only solution. Unless the politicians are threatened with losing their power, no one seems to listen to the public.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 22 Jun 2021 @ 8:23pm

    What if?

    So what prohibits some enterprising soul to group fund a project using private money and donations to fund a local broadband effort? Or local municipalities using the federal dollars for "other" programs while routing more "non-federal" funds into their municipal efforts? Just pay for the projects from a different pot of money. You know, some creative accounting tricks!

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 23 Jun 2021 @ 12:08pm

    6 in one hand

    This does indeed suck, but both sides (all sides) are bought and paid for by the corporate lobbyists.
    Wake me when:
    1.lobbying (a.k.a. Congressional Bribery) is illegal
    2.we have congressional term limits
    3.congressional pay raises must first be approved by the citizens

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Jun 2021 @ 2:47am

    Term limits are great, for the lobbyists.
    When the members of an institution aren't there for much longer than it takes to become an effective representative, then who does help guide these new members through the process?
    It is no longer the more experienced members of their party. Its left to the staffers and the lobbyists. They are the only ones left who know how the system works and can get things passed.
    So if you want a system ran by the lobbyists, for the benefit of the businesses and interests they represent then insist on term limits.
    Term limits are usually pushed by people who don't like who is being elected in other districts. Or by well meaning people who believe in miracles.

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

    • icon
      sumgai (profile), 24 Jun 2021 @ 4:37pm

      Re:

      That was pretty negative.

      If I'm elected for only so long (term limits), why should I seek your "campaign donations" if I can't use them?? Why shouldn't I just do what my constituents ask of me, and be able to hold my head high when I return to the fold?s

      And keep in mind that the bureaucrats that you speak of are already getting their money, regardless of who's in "elected" power. As for the rest of the staff, they are replaced with people that the newly elected bring with them, so that's not much help either.

      Together, term limits and public funding of political advertising are likely the only way that we might get out of the current jam. I don't claim it will be a sinecure, but it'll go a long ways toward sanity in our leadership.

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

      • icon
        nasch (profile), 25 Jun 2021 @ 2:44pm

        Re: Re:

        If I'm elected for only so long (term limits), why should I seek your "campaign donations" if I can't use them??

        What they'll seek instead is a cushy job after the term limit is up (a sinecure, you might call it).

        Why shouldn't I just do what my constituents ask of me?

        Either an office holder took the office to do that, in which case anti-corruption measures are not necessary, or they did it to enrich themselves, in which case I don't see how term limits would prevent them from doing so.

        I don't claim it will be a sinecure

        I think you mean panacea.

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


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Close

Add A Reply

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here



Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter




Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Sponsored Promotion
Public Money, Public Code - Sign The Open Letter at publiccode.eu
Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it
Close

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.