The Tech Policy Greenhouse is an online symposium where experts tackle the most difficult policy challenges facing innovation and technology today. These are problems that don't have easy solutions, where every decision involves tradeoffs and unintended consequences, so we've gathered a wide variety of voices to help dissect existing policy proposals and better inform new ones.

Our Latest Techdirt Greenhouse Panel: Broadband In The Age Of Covid

from the life gives you lemons dept

Let’s be clear: despite ample rhetoric to the contrary, U.S. broadband has always been a mediocre mess. Despite decades of incalculable industry handouts and political lip service, 42 million Americans (double official FCC estimates) still lack access to any broadband whatsoever. 83 million Americans are trapped under a broadband monopoly. Tens of millions more Americans are stuck with a duopoly, usually a combination of a cable giant and a phone company unwilling to upgrade or even repair aging DSL lines because it’s not profitable, quickly enough, for Wall Street’s liking.

The triple whammy of limited competition, regulatory capture, and Congressional corruption has resulted in the U.S. being utterly mediocre (or worse) in nearly every major broadband metric that matters. Billions upon billions in state and federal subsidies, tax breaks, and regulatory favors are thrown at massive monopolies that fail to live up to their end of the bargain time and time again. Worse, government efforts to track and report on broadband coverage and pricing data has been substandard for a generation, often by intentional design (after all, you don’t have to fix a problem you refuse to measure or even acknowledge).

As a result, U.S. consumers pay some of the highest prices in the developed world for slower broadband than many overseas nations. Telecom industry customer service is ranked among the worst of any industry in America. Marginalized and low-income communities are most often left disconnected, but even in “tech-centric” cities like San Francisco and Seattle, monopolization and substandard service is often the accepted norm. America’s a country that likes to crow about its technological supremacy, yet toddlers in the COVID era have been forced to huddle in the dirt outside of fast food restaurants just to get online for class.

Instead of rising to this challenge, we’ve repeatedly doubled down on the very practices that helped create the problem in the first place. Whether it’s the rubber stamping of competition and job-eroding megamergers and consolidation, the steady elimination of meaningful state and federal oversight of telecom monopolies, or simply refusing to adopt policies that drive meaningful competition to market, we’re locked in a cycle of dysfunction that repeatedly prioritizes monopoly revenues over public welfare, market health, or technological innovation.

It doesn’t have to be this way. As parents, students, and employees alike run face-first into a problem we’ve simply refused to fix, the COVID crisis creates a unique opportunity to rethink our approach to broadband delivery with an eye on accurate data, affordability, and the public good.

With that as backdrop, we’ve decided it would be timely to embrace broadband access (or the lack thereof) as our latest Techdirt Greenhouse panel. So we’ve collected a diverse array of international authors on the front lines of bridging the digital divide, deploying bleeding edge technological and regulatory solutions for a problem decades in the making. I’m hopeful this collection of industry leaders, activists, executives, and others can shine a little light on how we got here and where we need to go, using the urgency of the COVID crisis to drive meaningful, localized solutions to a problem that should have been solved long ago.

As we noted during our last two panels on content moderation and privacy, we want Techdirt Greenhouse to be a conversation, not a unidirectional bullhorn. As such, if you’d like to participate — or are an expert eager to respond to any of the pieces posted over the coming weeks — please feel free to reach out.

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