Government Report Declares Broadband An Essential, Uncompetitive Utility, Wistfully Ponders If Perhaps We Should Do Something About It
from the bureaucratic-prattle dept
In an otherwise rather droll report this week, the United States government stopped beating around the bush and formally declared broadband an essential utility. The full report by the government's new "broadband opportunity council" (pdf) is the latest hang-wringing, bureaucratic effort to study the broadband sector to death, despite the fact that even the nation's sixth graders likely know the core problem with the broadband industry is duopoly power and regulatory capture. The report, after consulting "248 diverse stakeholders" ranging from telecom companies to consumer advocacy groups, shockingly concludes that the government hasn't been acting in accordance with this new reality:
"Broadband has steadily shifted from an optional amenity to a core utility for households, businesses and community institutions. Today, broadband is taking its place alongside water, sewer and electricity as essential infrastructure for communities. However, not all Federal programs fully reflect the changing social, economic and technological conditions that redefined the need for and benefits of broadband. In some cases, programs that can support broadband deployment and adoption lack specific guidelines to promote its use. Other programs have not integrated funding for broadband commensurate with its importance and role in program execution and mission.Gosh, are we daring to suggest that blindly throwing subsidies at AT&T and Verizon, ignoring how that money gets spent, and then turning a blind eye to the lack of last-mile competition hasn't really been working? While previous, pricey government brainstorming sessions comically turned a blind eye to the lack of competition (our bland, politically-timid 2010 National Broadband Plan jumps immediately to mind), this latest report by the freshly-forged council at least acknowledges the reality on the ground:
"Today, nearly 40 percent of American households either do not have the option of purchasing a wired 10 Mbps connection or they must buy it from a single provider. Three out of four Americans do not have a choice of providers for broadband at 25 Mbps, the speed increasingly recognized as a baseline for broadband access. Lowering barriers to deployment and fostering market competition can drive down price, increase speeds, and improve service and adoption rates across all markets.The report proceeds to give a number of no brainer recommendations, like paying attention to where taxpayer subsidies go (ingenious!), removing ISP-written state laws preventing communities from improving local broadband when nobody else will (insightful!), and actually basing policy on real-world evidence instead of simply playing partisan patty cake (pioneering!). Of course these are all things that should have been obvious for the last fifteen years; government was just too terrified of upsetting deep-pocketed campaign contributors (and NSA partners) like AT&T and Comcast to actually make meaningful progress.
Hopefully in another five years we can look forward to a new report that realizes that if you want better broadband, perhaps you shouldn't let the nation's duopoly providers write all of our telecom laws, all-but own state legislatures and Congress, and effectively act as institutionally-bone-grafted government intelligence analysts?