of bandage-on-a-fatal-wound department
Earlier this week, the Biden administration announcement a “new” broadband package that wasn’t really new. The Rose Garden event featured executives from twenty ISPs who all received a pat on the back in front of the cameras for voluntarily and temporarily participating in a Biden plan to offer a $30 cut on broadband bills for low-income Americans.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) is a temporary plan that provides $30 off low-income broadband bills using a limited pool of taxpayer dollars. The plan is voluntary and participating ISPs can opt out at any time. This is a revamp of a previous “Emergency Broadband Benefit” COVID recovery plan that was extended (but reduced from $50 to $30) as part of the Biden Broadband Infrastructure Bill. .
To be clear, it’s a good thing low-income Americans are getting temporary relief from high prices. But again, the Biden team seems utterly reluctant to explain or explain why US broadband bills are so high in the first place. 20 to 40 million Americans do not have access to broadband. 83 million live under a monopoly, resulting in high prices, unequal access and historically appalling customer service.
The reality is that US lawmakers and regulators, under both parties, have turned a blind eye as an essential public service has been monopolized for 30 years. And when they act, they don’t systematically target the thing causing the problem in the first place (Comcast, regional AT&T monopolies), they apply weird, convoluted band-aids, like net neutrality or this temporary broadband discount for low-income people.
It was quite a nuance that was largely missed by the vast majority of media coverage of Biden’s announcement. If you dug media coverage of the eventyou literally couldn’t find a single one that rated Why Broadband prices in the United States are so high in the first place. Broadband monopolies are often not, and instead are replaced by a nebulous “digital divide” with no known cause.
This new Biden program does not solve the broadband problem in the United States. It takes a wad of taxpayers’ money and gives it to ISPs (with a long history of mis-spent subsidies and which created the problem in the first place), who then pass the rebate on to low-income Americans (hopefully, after going through many convoluted hoops). And again, ISPs can quit at any time.
It should also be noted that several participating ISPs abused the plan when it was first announced to sell struggling Americans at more expensive levels. It’s also worth noting that several of the ISPs with whom Biden held a press event are busy trying to scuttle Biden’s late FCC nominee Gigi Sohn, a true monopoly reformer whom Biden has yet to publicly shield from public scrutiny. an ongoing telecommunications smear campaign.
Which is to say, there are mixed messages here. We care about low-income Americans, but not enough to publicly support a candidate and an FCC reformer who could actually help them. We care about US broadband, but not enough to pinpoint exactly what’s really causing the problem. We care about the “digital divide,” but we don’t want to drive the companies responsible for it crazy.
The GOP loves telecom monopolies to a point where the two entities are indistinguishable.
The DNC is often significantly better at it, but it also often likes to pretend that telecom monopolization doesn’t exist, or isn’t a problem. They talk about the “digital divide” all the time, but they don’t have the political courage to recognize why it exists or to do much about it (for example, try to find a Single times either of the two existing Democratic FCC commissioners have clearly specifically criticized monopolization).
Biden mentioned a lack of competition late in the event, but did not explain the causes of this lack of competition (regional monopolization and the state/federal corruption that protects it). And the $42 billion we’re spending to expand broadband will be help close some gaps in broadband coverage, although there are also big problems (see this story on our shitty broadband maps, and this one on how states are trying to ensure that much of this money goes to monopolies, not competitors).
Again, is a temporary $30 cut for the poor on broadband a good thing? Yeah. But again, this is just a band-aid for a deeper problem that we refuse to address. And we refuse to fix it largely because many of the monopolies causing the problem (Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, Charter) are grafted onto both our intelligence gathering apparatus and our first responder networks. . They are part of the government.
As such, calling them into predatory and monopolistic behavior would incur political contribution and campaigning costs that many lawmakers and policymakers are unwilling to bear. As a result, in very American fashion, we often focus on treating the symptoms, not the disease.
Filed Under: biden, broadband, digital divide, dnc, fcc, gop, broadband internet, internet access, monopolies, telecom