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White House Calls For FCC To Support The Removal Of Local State Laws That Prevent High Speed Internet Competition

This week, the White House called on the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to remove laws in 19 states that limit broadband competition. Those states' laws have prevent competition, which has several consequences:

  • Robs citizens of the freedom of local choice to form municipal broadband services,
  • Prevents competition, which keeps Internet and broadband prices high and unaffordable for many Americans
  • The high prices stifle job creation and new businesses,
  • Consumers in many areas cannot get high-speed or fiber Internet access, and
  • Often, the Internet speed is slower and not as fast as could, or should, be

The Broadband Fact Sheet by the White House mentioned several community success stories, including Cedar Falls, Iowa:

"Communities like Cedar Falls have banded together to commit to broadband that works by bringing in new competition, leveraging municipal investments, and forming new partnerships to bring world-class Internet to places like this small Iowa town. High-speed, low-cost broadband is paving the way for economic revitalization not just in Cedar Falls, but in places like Chattanooga, TN, Kansas City, MO, and Lafayette, LA — all of which have Internet speeds nearly 100 times faster than the national average and deliver it at an affordable price."

How did things get this way? Regular readers of this blog are familiar with the issues and the 19 states with local laws that prevent or restrict citizens from forming competitive high-speed, municipal Internet services. Those states: 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.

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..."

So, the same political party that usually touts less regulation and free-market capitalism with competition have engineered a situation with more laws and less competition. And, the lawmakers in these 19 states went along with this charade to place corporate profits ahead of their constituents' (e.g., consumers') needs for the fastest and affordable high-speed Internet services.

But, it's even worse than that. There's also an effort to limit cable TV competition. PR Watch also reported:

"The ALEC "Cable and Video Competition Act" attacks municipal cable franchises and frees cable companies from oversight. The bill creates a single state franchising authority and releases the companies from requirements to wire the entire state, and allows companies to decide when -- or if -- to build out cable, and through that cable, to provide adequate internet access. In North Carolina, for example, the bill passed under the name "the Video Service Competition Act" in 2006 with the promise that deregulation would result in greater investment by cable broadband providers; but instead, the state is tied for last place in terms of the number of homes with a basic broadband connection. An estimated twenty-three states have enacted statewide video franchising laws..."

The White House suggested several changes and programse to address the high-speed Internet access problems. First:

"... President Obama is announcing a new effort to support local choice in broadband,formally opposing measures that limit the range of options available to communities to spur expanded local broadband infrastructure, including ownership of networks... the Administration is filing a letter with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) urging it to join this effort by addressing barriers inhibiting local communities from responding to the broadband needs of their citizens."


".. 50 cities representing over 20 million Americans have joined the Next Century Cities coalition, a nonpartisan network pledging to bring fast, community-supported broadband to their towns and cities. They join 37 research universities around the country that formed the Gig.U partnership to bring fast broadband to communities around their campuses."

In June, the White House will host an event to recognize these efforts and the individuals involved. The third change:

"... the Department of Commerce is launching a new initiative, BroadbandUSA, to promote broadband deployment and adoption. Building on expertise gained from overseeing the $4.7 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program funded through the Recovery Act, BroadbandUSA will offer online and in-person technical assistance to communities; host a series of regional workshops around the country; and publish guides and tools that provide communities with proven solutions to address problems in broadband infrastructure..."

If you operate a rural farm, are a recognized Insian Tribe, or operate an eligible non-profit, cooperative, or private company, then you may be interested in the fourth item:

"... Department of Agriculture is accepting applications to its Community Connect broadband grant program and will reopen a revamped broadband loan program, which offers financing to eligible rural carriers that invest in bringing high-speed broadband to unserved and under served rural areas."

The fifth and last change:

"...The President is calling for the Federal Government to remove all unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition, and is establishing a new Broadband Opportunity Council of over a dozen government agencies with the singular goal of speeding up broadband deployment..."

I applaud the Obama Administraton for making these changes and programs.

Will the newly Republican controlled House and Senate support these actions to remove and reduce regulations? The GOP usually supports actions to promote competition and reduce regulations on corporations. So, will the GOP support these efforts or cave in to the demands of ISP lobbyists?

What are you opinions of the above recommendations? Of the like GOP response?


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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.


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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