Telecom Lobbyists Easily Weakened Language In 'Bipartisan' Broadband Infrastructure Bill
from the do-not-pass-go,-do-not-collect-$200 dept
So we’ve already noted how the broadband component of the “bipartisan compromise” infrastructure bill was still helpful, but much weaker than many wanted it to be (pretty much the common theme across the infrastructure package). While there are some useful grant funds for underserved “middle mile” and other networks — as well as the continuation of a helpful but flawed COVID broadband discount program — the proposal itself doesn’t really do much of anything about the core reason US broadband is so expensive: namely, regional telecom monopolization or the corruption that protects it.
Other aspects of the proposal started off well but were steadily eroded throughout the “negotiations” process. For example, many lawmakers wanted the country to boost its standard definition of “broadband” to symmetrical 100 Mbps to better represent modern realities. But the final package implemented a 100 Mbps down, 20 Mbps standard — and only as it pertains to who can get funding for broadband expansion. The overall definition of broadband remains unchanged.
As Ernesto Falcon at the EFF notes, this weakened standard was courtesy of fixed wireless and cable industry lobbyists, who know that much of their infrastructure can’t actually do much better than 10-20 Mbps on the upstream. So we basically lowered the bar to make them happy:
“By defining internet access as the ability to get 100/20 Mbps service, the draft language allows cable monopolies to argue that anyone with access to ancient, insufficient internet access does not need federal money to build new infrastructure. That means communities with nearly decade-old DOCSIS 3.0 broadband are shielded from federal dollars from being used to build fiber. Copper-DSL-only areas, and areas entirely without broadband, will likely take the lion?s share of the $40 billion made available. In addition to rural areas, pockets of urban markets where people are still lacking broadband will qualify. This will lead to an absurd result: people on inferior, too-expensive cable services will be seen as equally served as their neighbors who will get federally funded fiber.”
Ernesto has routinely pointed out that fiber broadband is future proof (and feeds most cellular towers in the first place), so if you’re going to throw billions of dollars in subsidies at companies, you probably should be encouraging fiber as often as possible. Of course, the government rarely adheres to his advice, frequently throwing countless subsidies at wireless companies for service they don’t deliver, or hundreds of millions of dollars at Elon Musk to bring inferior broadband to a couple of traffic medians and airport parking lots.
There were other nonsensical sacrifices made to the broadband component of the infrastructure agreement made under the banner of “bipartisan compromise,” including the elimination of any attempts to lend a hand to the popular community broadband efforts taking root across the country out of frustration. Again, not based on any hard data or factual reality, but because telecom lobbyists don’t really like anything that could potentially erode regional monopoly revenues.
As noted previously, these kinds of downgrades are uniformly framed in beltway DC coverage as a “bipartisan compromise.” In reality, it’s really only the people who want decent baseline standards and the barest levels of sector oversight who are having to compromise. And more often than not the press helps politicians frame their decisions to pander directly to sector lobbyists as simply being principled spendthrifts.