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Senators Introduce Bill To Allow More Broadband Internet Competition To Help Consumers

After The White House announced last week several programs to bring affordable high-speed Internet services to more citizens, three U.S. Senators have introduced related legislation. The Community Broadband Act is designed to encourage competition within the broadband Internet industry by prohibiting local laws that currently prevent cities, towns, and citizens from forming municipal broadband networks in 19 states.

A prior study found that broadband offerings in the United States lagged services available in other developed countries that provide affordable and faster high-speed Internet connections. The study analyzed services in 24 cities worldwide, and found that consumers in the United States pay more and get slower speeds than people in other countries. The study produced several rankings of cities and broadband services. The only offerings in the United States that ranked well (e.g., provided the best value to consumers) were areas with municipal broadband networks; not the incumbent corporate Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Yet, local laws in 19 states prevent or restrict consumers from building municipal broadband services.

U.S. Senators Cory Booker (D-New Jersey), Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri) introduced the Community Broadband Act on Thursday, January 22:

"... No statute, regulation, or other legal requirement of a State or local government may prohibit, or have the effect of prohibiting or substantially inhibiting, any public provider from providing telecommunications service or advanced telecommunications capability or services to any person or any public or private entity."

Senator Booker said in a statement:

"As Mayor of Newark, I saw firsthand the value of empowering local communities to invest and innovate. The Community Broadband Act provides cities the flexibility they need to meet the needs of their residents... This legislation will enhance economic development, improve access to education and health care services, and provide increased opportunity to individuals in underserved areas. At a time when local governments are looking for ways to ensure their communities are connected and have access to advanced and reliable networks, the Community Broadband Act empowers local governments to respond to this ever-increasing demand.”

Senator McCaskill said in a statement:

"Folks in small towns and rural communities should have the same access as everyone else to the Internet, and the jobs and business opportunities it brings... Large Internet providers too often aren’t willing to offer service in rural America, so this bill ensures local communities can come together to provide their residents with access to the opportunities high-speed broadband offers."

Well said, since the Internet is critical to both businesses and consumers. How did this happen? Who enacted these local laws in 19 states that hamper local communities from meeting the needs of their residents?

How did things get this way? Who lobbied for restrictions in the above states? PR Watch reported:

"The ALEC "Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act" is a "model" bill for states to thwart local efforts to create public broadband access. Promoted under the guise of "fair competition" and "leveling the playing field," this big telecom-supported bill imposes regulations on community-run broadband that they would never tolerate themselves. Iterations of this anti-municipal broadband bill passed in 19 states to stop local governments in communities like Wilson, North Carolina from wiring their communities with fiber... At closed-door ALEC meetings, state legislators sit down with lobbyists for corporations like AT&T, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Comcast, and News Corp to be handed changes to our laws that further the right wing agenda and directly benefit the corporate bottom line..."

The 19 states with restrictive local laws: Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. While 72+ percent of households in the USA have high-speed Internet services, studies have proven that American pay more monthly for high-speed Internet services, and get slower speeds than consumers in other countries.

So, the same political party that usually touts less government regulation and free-market capitalism with competition actually introduced more government regulation to limit competition. That politicial party usually touts "consumer choice," but the local laws in these 19 states do the opposite: limit consumers' choice. And, the lawmakers in these 19 states went along with this charade to place corporate profits ahead of their residents' needs for the fastest and affordable high-speed Internet services.

Also last week, House Republicans introduce legislation that protects net neutrality principles but removes the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) authority to regulate telecommunications corporations, many of who are ISPs. The House  bill does not address lagging broadband services in the USA compared to other countries, nor does it remove local laws in 19 states so cities, towns, and citizens can form municipal broadband networks.

Ars Technia reported that the Community Broadband Act:

"... stands little chance because of Congress' Republican majority..."

Hopefully, both pieces of legislation will be negotiated and merged into a single bill with compromises to benefit consumers. Every voter, regardless of your politics, should contact your elected officials and demand that they explain what they are doing to lower your monthly broadband bills, not keep your monthly bills bill to benefit their corporate campaign contributors. And, tell your elected officials you want local laws removed to encourage more broadband competition.

What are your opinions of this?


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Chanson de Roland

The President and the Democrats don't have the power to enact the Community Broadband Act, but they do have the power to sustain the President's veto of Senator Thune's proposed legislation which would destroy the FCC's power to regulate the broadband industry. See I've Been Mugged: Politicians Try A "Bait-And-Switch" With Broadband Internet, Net Neutrality, And The FCC at http://ivebeenmugged.typepad.com/my_weblog/2015/01/gop-bait-and-switch.html and my comment to it. But the President and the Democrats have the power to effect a stalemate, unless they get legislation that both in title and in fact provides for net neutrality and maintenance of the FCC's authority to regulate the broadband industry, and they should do so, because, in this case, half of a loaf, that is, partial net neutrality in exchange for loss of the FCC's authority to regulate the broadband industry, is worse than no loaf at all.

And the President and the Democrats should campaign vigorously for the Community Broadband Act, net neutrality, and maintenance of the FCC's authority to regulate the broadband industry, because it is the right thing to do for the prosperity of the American people and American business and for the freedom of ideas and expression on the Internet and for the competition of content on the Internet, and, if doing the right thing isn't enough, it is darn good politics, as the American people overwhelming support net neutrality and want faster Internet speeds at significantly lower prices. But this President and his party have been notoriously bad at doing politics to support their agenda: It took them six and half years to finally campaign for middle-class economics, and I doubt that they will do any better campaigning for net neutrality, the FCC's title II authority, and the Community Broadband Act.

I've wondered why the President and the Democrats are so bad at politics for a middle-class agenda, and I think that I know the answer: The President and Democrats, like their Republican counterparts, are the just two wings of the elite's Party of Property, which pursue the interests of the 1% above all others and, where necessary, to the prejudice of the interests of the middle class and the poor. There is no doubt that the Republican Party is the shill of the 1%; indeed, they hardly deny it. But I've been waiting for the President and the Democrats to prove me wrong about their true character and true priorities. I am still waiting.

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