Tennessee Study Shows State Remains A Broadband Backwater Thanks To AT&T Lobbyists, Clueless Politicians, And Protectionist State Law
from the get-the-hell-out-of-the-way dept
AT&T lobbyists have been happily getting such laws passed for fifteen years with little attention by the media. That began to change with the rise of efforts like Google Fiber, which more clearly illustrated how public/private partnerships have become essential in bringing broadband competition to countless areas incumbent ISPs deem "not profitable enough" to care about. Last year, the FCC finally woke up from its own long slumber on the subject, stating it would be preempting measures in two such state laws (in North Carolina and Tennessee) that hindered municipal broadband efforts from expanding.
Tennessee's response? To sue the FCC -- claiming that state rights were being violated (letting AT&T write bad state law? Perfectly ok, though).
As that lawsuit is being hammered out in the courts, Tennessee state leaders have been forced to respond to an increasingly annoyed citizenry; one that's slowly woken up to AT&T's role in keeping Tennessee a broadband backwater. Part of this effort by Tennessee leaders has been to fund a new study taking a closer look at the state of broadband in Tennessee. And while some thought the study would be used to obfuscate state broadband problems, the full survey has been released and it doesn't pull any punches (pdf).
The study ranked Tennessee 40th in terms of overall broadband investment and availability, and found that 13% of households (or 834,545 Tennesseans) lack access to any high-speed broadband internet service whatsoever. The study found that the vast majority of Tennessee residents still get internet access through slower services like DSL, wireless or dial-up connections, either because that's all that's available, or because they couldn't afford faster options. The bright spot in the Tennessee report? The ultra-fast services being offered by the state-owned utility in Chattanooga (EPB):Marsha Blackburn as a massive reason why Tennessee broadband remains mired in mediocrity, it doesn't shy away from pointing out that the state's decision to try and blockade public/private partnerships -- when they're the primary driver of broadband improvement everywhere else in the country -- isn't very smart:
"In States where there are no restrictions, administrative burdens or regulatory limitations for any entity to build telecommunications infrastructure and offer services, there is more competition and more broadband investment, especially in rural parts of the state. Municipalities and electric cooperatives who have a vested interest in the vitality of their local communities are investing in broadband infrastructure because it is a key driver to economic development."But this shouldn't really be new information for state leaders who prioritize AT&T campaign contributions over the welfare of countless Tennessee residents and smaller businesses. They've just chosen to ignore reports like this one, because they've convinced themselves that selling state laws to the highest bidder is ok -- because they're engaged in a noble fight against government intrusion into the private sector. AT&T, as you might expect, clung tightly to this narrative when asked about the study by the Chattanooga Times Free Press:
"...a spokesman for AT&T called the consultant's report "disappointing," because it appears to favor more government involvement in private business. "It largely ignores private sector investment and focuses heavily on proposals that grow government with little reference to the associated costs and risks to taxpayers," spokesman Joe Burgan said."In reality, AT&T and other incumbent broadband providers simply adore bloated, dysfunctional government -- just as long as it's doing what AT&T wants. It's when government starts to heed the will of the people that you'll usually find AT&T crying like a petulant child. Tennessee politicians, too, showed they're not making much progress in opening their minds to the reality that improved broadband may mean some layer of local government involvement when the private sector fails state residents:
"Norris, who said he remains wary about municipal broadband based on the failure of Networx in his district near Memphis, said he hopes the push for more broadband is not an excuse for bigger government. Sen. Mark Green, R-Clarksville, vice chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, also expressed concern about allowing government-owned utilities like EPB to compete with private firms such as AT&T or Comcast. "We want to look closely at this study, but in general, I am not for government and business competing in the marketplace," he said.Again, though: AT&T and Comcast aren't competing, and Senators like Green are letting large ISPs literally write laws ensuring they never have to. And these local governments aren't getting into the broadband business because it's fun or because they're villains trying to ruin your ideological good time -- they're doing it because they've been saddled with awful broadband thanks to regulatory capture perpetuated by the same folks complaining about dysfunctional government.
Dysfunctional government fighting municipal broadband under the pretense of caring about stopping dysfunctional government is, for lack of a more scientific term, a massive disingenuous circle jerk. One that perpetuates distraction from the real issues of the day by intentionally inciting partisan discord.
All told the study found that Tennessee could easily deliver speeds of 25 Mbps to every business and consumer in the state for somewhere between $819.5 million and $1.7 billion. And while that's not a small number, you can be absolutely guaranteed that significantly more than that has been spent by AT&T (and unfortunately taxpayers) over the last fifteen years to ensure real, vibrant broadband competition never materializes.