While it was overshadowed by the net neutrality debate, the FCC’s decision last February to attack state protectionist broadband laws was notably more important. For fifteen years, companies like AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner Cable have used groups like ALEC to pass laws in more than 20 states hindering or outright preventing towns and cities from building their own broadband networks — even in cases of pure market failure where incumbent ISPs refused to. In some states, towns are even prohibited from striking public/private broadband partnerships.
In the FCC’s February 3-2 decision, the FCC took specific aim at two such laws in Tennessee and North Carolina, after municipal broadband providers there stated they were unable to expand due to these laws. By the FCC’s logic, the laws (which by any definition are pure protectionism) run afoul of the agency’s authority under Section 706 of the Telecom Act to ensure even and timely deployment of broadband access. Since again, these laws protect nothing but the pocketbooks of giant, lazy telecom incumbents, it was a good and overdue call, and largely overlooked by the press.
Of course standing up to lobbying powerhouses like AT&T comes with a price, and ever since the FCC’s vote it has been attacked by ISP-funded allies in Congress like Marsha Blackburn, who breathlessly assailed the FCC’s decision as an assault on states’ rights. You’ll notice that nowhere is concern expressed by folks like Blackburn about how states were quite literally letting the highest bidder write the god-damned law.
Fast forward to this week, when Presidential hopeful Marco Rubio and seven other state freedom lovin’ Congressmen wrote a letter to the FCC (pdf) scolding the agency for daring stand up to AT&T. In the letter, Rubio and friends accuse the FCC of “choosing winners and losers” in the broadband race:
“…The FCC is promoting government-owned networks at the possible expense of private sector broadband providers — both incumbents and competitors — who have made strides to deploy networks throughout the country. Municipal broadband networks not only run the risk of overbuilding existing private networks, they could also result in the loss of limited universal service funds for carriers who are delivering broadband to rural Americans. The FCC should not be in the business of choosing winners and losers in the competitive broadband marketplace.”
Of course that’s nonsense. The only one picking winners and losers here are ISP lobbyists, who are preventing towns and cities from making local infrastructure decisions for themselves. And it’s worth repeating that these towns and cities wouldn’t be considering building their own networks (or begging private partners like Google or Tucows to do it) if they were happy with the broadband service they receive from the nations pampered incumbents. While there’s pockets of competition, by and large US broadband is a story of regulatory capture and market failure, and community broadband is a very healthy, organic response to that.
And while Rubio, like Blackburn, pretends to be worried about broadband coverage and states rights, The Intercept…