House Passes Massive Broadband Bill That Surprisingly Doesn't Suck

from the not-a-chance-in-hell dept

The majority of broadband bills that wind their way through Congress don't actually address the most pressing problem in US telecom: a lack of meaningful broadband competition. Often the bills focus almost exclusively on heavy subsidization of incumbent telecom monopolies, an approach that requires a level of diligence the U.S. has historically not been capable of. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which passed the House last week, certainly includes its fair share of subsidization, including $80 billion in fiscal year 2021 to help deploy fiber broadband networks to the underserved parts of the country.

But the bill also contains a number of other improvements most objective experts have long supported, including:

  • Wording that eliminates the 19 state laws, usually literally written by incumbent ISPs like AT&T, that prohibit or hinder your town or city from building its own broadband network, even if existing private providers have refused to upgrade your area.

  • A "dig once" mandate that dictates that fiber conduit must be installed alongside any new highway construction in a bid to make widespread fiber deployment easier.

  • a $9 billion Broadband Connectivity Fund that would dole out $50 monthly discounts for low-income broadband users, and $75 monthly discounts for low-income households in Tribal lands. Our existing low income program (Lifeline) was started by Ronald Reagan, and doles out a measly $9.25 credit that must be used on wireless, phone, or broadband service, and the Pai FCC has been fairly relentless in its quest to eliminate even this modest subsidy. Often, according to the courts, without actually measuring the real-world impact of their tactics.

  • A provision that dictates that any new subsidized fiber builds must be "open access," meaning that numerous ISP competitors will be allowed to come in and compete using centralized infrastructure. For decades, data has indicated that such a model results in better, cheaper, faster broadband service thanks to forced competition -- and for just as long, US policy makers have ignored this data.
  • These are, again, all things that actual telecom policy experts (not to be conflated with the army of academics, think tankers, consultants, lobbyists and lawyers often tangentially employed by ISPs to help pretend US broadband isn't a shit show) have been advocating for for years. Many of them -- specifically "dig once" provisions and eliminating protectionist state laws -- generally have wide, bipartisan public support.

    But while the bill passed the House with a vote of 233-188, there's not a chance in hell of it passing the Senate or getting Trump's signature. In large part because it runs in stark contrast to the Trump administration's and Pai FCC's approach to telecom policy, which largely involves doling out massive tax cuts, regulatory favors, and other perks to natural monopolies in exchange for massive layoffs and reduced overall sector investment. Then not only pretending that this approach worked wonders, but ignoring the high prices and limited competition that has plagued the US telecom sector for decades.

    Like so many other things in tech policy (like net neutrality), actually recognizing a lack of competition in telecom -- and wanting to actually embrace pro-competition policies -- has somehow become a partisan issue, dooming us to inaction and further Comcast and AT&T dominance. While this bill is decent, its backers pushed it as election season fodder with the knowledge it won't pass. Without a dramatic Congressional shakeup, arm in arm with serious efforts to rein in Comcast, AT&T, and Verizon's dominance over state and federal legislatures, it likely never will.

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    Filed Under: broadband, competition, congress, dig once, fcc, house, lifeline, muni broadband, open access

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    1. icon
      Samuel Abram (profile), 8 Jul 2020 @ 7:41am


      I think you mean the "Eschew Insipid, Evident Initials Ordinance". Easy to get them mixed up.

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