Saturday, August 01, 2015

How large telecom monopolies can dictate where we live

Over the past year or so, I've found a few stories where people have had to move because their options for internet access were so poor, that they could not function at their job when they needed to work from home. For example, here's a story about a man who went two years without internet access at the hands of ATT.

That poor guy had been strung along for many months as he tried in vain to secure a decent connection so that he could work from home. In the end, the man decided to move his family somewhere else so that he could work from home if need be. The lack of internet service was a primary driver in his decision to move.

Then there is another man who spent months securing guarantees from Comcast and Centurylink that he'd have adequate service from his home before he bought the home and moved in. Even after moving in, he could not secure service. He had to sell his house and move to another location in order to secure the service he needed for his job.

And here is yet another man tortured by ATT when he was told that his neighbors could get access, but he could not. He was also told that they were at maximum capacity and that if someone else would cancel their service, then he could get service. But until then, he had to get in line and wait.

In all of these cases and many more, the homeowner needed to work from home and depended upon the internet for his livelihood. For these people, the internet is no longer a luxury, it is a requirement. For anyone still living in 1992, the internet is now a utility, not a luxury.

All of these incidents concern a local monopoly run by an absentee corporation that is completely focused on short-term profits rather than long term investments in the communities they serve. This is why community broadband is so important. When residents cannot get the service they require for their jobs, it is incumbent upon them to create their own solution. We call this solution "community broadband" or "municipal broadband".

Unfortunately, companies like ATT, Centurylink and Comcast have the upper hand when it comes to public policy. In order to maintain their obscene customer service and high profits (two things that should never be seen together in a capitalist economy), they must exert enormous influence in public policy to ensure that they can maintain their private monopolies.

This means writing bills under the guise of "legislator education" at forums and retreats sponsor and paid for by corporations that benefit from said laws. We might call this a bill mill. This also means making significant political contributions through "SuperPACs" to ensure that candidates that are sympathetic to the corporate agenda remain in power.

This usurpation of the power of the people is not always successful. In more than 450 cities and towns nationwide, the people have recognized the antipathy pointed at them by very large and powerful corporations. In response, they have built their own networks, a community broadband network to provide them with the internet access they need to grow their local economies and attract jobs to their respective towns.

So when a state passes a law limiting or prohibiting community broadband, they are not just serving the interests of incumbent legacy carriers like ATT and Comcast. They are also denying communities across the nation the right of self-determination, prohibiting them from building the networks that the big telecoms refuse to build.

This is the problem we are faced with in thousands of communities across our great nation. Unable to get internet access. Unable to build and roll out our own. We are being forced to submit to legacy incumbent players who really do not want to serve. They only want to profit.

This is why I applauded the FCC for stepping up and working to make it easier for communities to build their own networks when incumbent legacy carriers fail to uphold the public trust placed in them. This is why I applauded President Obama when he highlighted the work citizens have done in Cedar Falls, Iowa, to create their own network.

If the incumbent carriers are so focused on short-term profits that they cannot meet the needs of the communities they serve, it's up to us to build our own networks. If our representatives in our statehouses and Congress are so beholden to the incumbent carriers that they pass legislation hobbing our efforts, then we need to look more closely at that behavior and call them on it.

This quid pro quo is what the next election will be about. The biggest question for the next election, at least in my mind, will be this: Mr. legislator, who do you work for? The people or the corporations?
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