Google, Ting, Netflix Dare To Suggest That Maybe Giant, Anti-Competitive ISPs Shouldn't Be Writing State Telecom Laws
from the pay-to-play-legislation dept
For years now, we've noted how state legislatures are so corrupt, they quite literally let giant ISPs like AT&T and Comcast write state telecom law. These laws, as you might expect, do everything in their power to keep the pricey, abysmal customer service broadband status quo in place by hamstringing any and every attempt to bring competition to bear on these complacent duopolists. That's particularly true of the anti-community broadband bills passed in more than 20 states that prevent towns and cities from upgrading their own local telecom infrastructure -- even in instances where incumbent providers refuse to.
This kind of protectionism is precisely what's going on right now in Virginia, where incumbent broadband providers have convinced (read: thrown a lot of money at) state Delegate Kathy Byron to propose HB 2108, aka the "Virginia Broadband Deployment Act." The act does nothing to improve broadband deployment; in fact it does the exact opposite, preventing ad-hoc community broadband solutions in light of market failure. It also saddles towns and cities with all manner of restrictions, forcing them to get approval by committees stocked with incumbent ISP lobbyists if they want to even strike public/private broadband partnerships.
Byron has been under notable fire the last few weeks by folks who believe, crazily, that perhaps you shouldn't let giant ISPs with decades of documented anti-competitive behavior write state telecom policy. While Byron has tried to claim that hamstringing towns and cities will somehow improve broadband expansion and pricing, other locals have been busy calling a spade a spade:
Opponents argue that the bill would discourage competition that would drive down broadband costs for poor Virginians and that it would hamper existing municipal broadband networks from providing a necessary service.
The Roanoke City Council unanimously condemned HB 2108 on Tuesday, claiming it would endanger a $9.6 million investment by the city and other local governments in the Roanoke Valley Broadband Authority.
“I’ll call it what it is – an effort by the legacy carriers to protect their turf,” Councilman Ray Ferris said, according to the Roanoke Times. “It’s crony capitalism at its finest.”
Opposition to Byron's bill includes incumbent competitors Google, Ting, Netflix and others, who collectively penned a group letter to the Chairman of the Virginia House Commerce and Labor Committee (pdf), noting that the measure actually makes broadband connectivity in the state worse:
"If enacted, HB 2108 would not only hurt Virginia’s localities and their residents, but it would also harm the private sector in multiple ways. Among other things, it would derail or unnecessarily complicate and delay public-private partnerships. It would interfere with the ability of private companies to make timely sales of equipment and services to public broadband providers. It would deny private companies timely access to advanced networks over which they could offer business and residential customers an endless array of modern products and services. It would also impair economic and educational opportunities that contribute to a skilled workforce from which businesses across the state will benefit.
The letter also proceeds to crazily suggest that maybe, just maybe, decisions on local infrastructure should be left up to the voters, not the CEOs of Comcast, CenturyLink, or AT&T:
Communities in Virginia are eager to work with willing established carriers, enter into public-private partnerships with new entrants, develop their own networks, if necessary, or create other innovative means of acquiring affordable access to advanced communications capabilities. These are fundamentally local decisions that should be made by the communities themselves, through the processes that their duly elected and accountable local officials ordinarily use for making comparable decisions. They should also be able to use their own resources as they deem appropriate to foster economic development, educational opportunity, public safety, and much more, without having to comply with the bottlenecks that HB 2108 would impose.
As we've noted repeatedly, ISPs have been extremely successful the last fifteen years in passing these kinds of laws by framing this as a partisan debate, intentionally sowing division. But getting better broadband and improved competition has broad, bipartisan support. As does letting local communities decide for themselves what to do about the local infrastructure impact of obvious private sector failure. And these bills don't solve any problems; in fact they make fixing the problem of spotty broadband coverage significantly harder.
Most consumers realize this, which is why, like so many tech policy issues incorrectly framed as partisan (net neutrality), these ad-hoc local solutions often see broad, bipartisan support among actual consumers.