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Friday, January 16, 2015

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Chanson de Roland

President Obama is a card. At the end of his presidency, when he is a lame duck with a Republican-controlled Congress and a de facto Republican controlled FCC (de facto because Obama nominated and the then Democratically controlled Senate approved the nomination of the cable industry's chief lobbyist, Tom Wheeler, as Chairman and deciding vote of the FCC), he proposes increasing the minimum wage, reform of immigration, paid sick leave, and now locally owned broadband networks as a response to the anti-competitive, rapacious, and prosperity-destroying American broadband industry, which has been ripping off the American consumer and impeding business and economic growth for nearly two decades by offing American consumers and business the slowest broadband at the highest prices, while reaping vast profits as a result. The President offers these proposals now, instead of let's say six years ago, when he has absolutely no chance of getting them through the Republican Congress and will be out of office before the next election could possibly restore his party's political power.

What are we make of this? Is this simply more political theater, where the Republicans play bad cop for the Democratic base and the Democrats play good cop for that base, and vice-versa for the Republican base? That is, is this just politics to try to win votes for the next election by championing things that he, Obama, knows that he can't deliver? Or is this the desperate remorse of a President who knows that he has missed his chance on improving the lot of the poor and middle classes and who is sincerely trying to do some good before he leaves office?

It is hard to answer those questions with any certainty, and, in any event, it is just crying over spilt milk. Whether the President is sincere or not--and let's assume that he is--the question now is what can we, the American people, do to advance the President's tardy agenda for the progress of the poor and middle classes. And the instant issue here is what can we do promote competition in the market for broadband and the benefits of it in the form of faster speeds, promoting net neutrality, and all at lower prices.

As daunting as the task is and as stack as the deck is against us, the American people, we can do some things. Of course, support the President in his efforts and proposals. But we can do more, especially in the 19 states were Republican legislatures, acting as shills for the broadband industry, have, in violation of every principle of providing for fair competition, for restricting regulation to what is necessary and advisable, and in shameless pandering to the interests of their corporate patrons, simply forbid their local government from building and owning broadband networks. The solution in those 19 states, at least in some instances, might be citizen-owned cooperatives to build and own broadband networks.

The greatest problem with broadband cooperatives is the difficulty of organizing large groups of citizens to do such a thing. Then there is the skillful lawyering needed to draft a cooperative agreement that can work and survive the legal challenges that it will faces. And finally, if any broadband cooperative appeared to be successfully forming, you can expect the broadband industry and their bought and paid for legislators to unleash holy war on it. But, while local governments have no sovereignty and, thus, are creatures of the state, which are subject to the state's will, no state can prohibit a cooperative of citizens from building and owning a broadband network, though a state could oppose formidable obstacles to that effort, but I think that those could be overcome.

So in addition to the President's efforts, we should also consider community-based cooperatives. It would be difficult and something of a long shot, but it is more likely than Congress authorizing the U.S. Post Office to be a broadband ISP, which, if properly implemented, would be a great idea that would bring competition to the market for broadband. But I think cooperatives in Pennsylvania, North Carolina, et al. is a more likely prospect.

George

Chanson de Roland:

Thanks for the thoughtful comment. I really don't care what The President's motivations are. The problem is what it is: lack of high-speed Internet competition in many states that causes all of the ills listed above. It took the President time to come around on gay marriage. Perhaps, it also took The President time to come around with high-speed Internet access. As a wise person once advised me: some lessons are harder to learn than others.

I support whichever party (e.g., Republican, Democrat) tries to solve the problem. The problem has to get fixed if citizens want better, affordable access. If the GOP fails, then it is not the party of free market, competitive capitalism it claims to be. If neither does, then both have shown their true colors and desire to carry water for the one percent. Perhaps, then it'll become clearer to more voters that it's time to back a truly independent candidate/party.

Yes, the Postal Service would be an excellent solution, if given the legal authority to do so. The Postal Service has so many offices that could easily become low-cost WiFi hotspots.

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