Sunday, February 07, 2016

Disenfranchisement in the realm of broadband

DSL Reports has noticed an interesting position taken by ATT. In a nutshell, ATT says that government subsidies are good for them, but not so good for community broadband. 

People in Tennessee are wondering how it is that ATT can take billions in government subsidies while fighting the expansion of taxpayer assisted broadband in the state. Tennessee is home to the vaunted city of Chattanooga, a city with a government owned network that provides gigabit access to the internet for $70 per month. That's 1 Gb/s up and down. The network is run by the Electric Power Board and is one of the fastest ISPs in the nation. The EPB did this long before incumbents like Comcast and ATT finally figured out that the demand was there.

ATT's response? Lobby the legislature to make it harder for cities to build their own networks. They also lobbied the legislature to make it impossible for the EPB to expand it's service to neighboring cities. ATT prevailed by providing ample campaign contributions to the members of the legislature. Despite numerous calls to repeal those onerous laws, the legislature is still not listening. It's that easy money thing, clouding their judgement in the legislature.

DSL Reports has rightly called out ATT for buying laws outright to protect its monopoly power. While ATT tries to paint the battle as one between private enterprise and government, ATT conveniently leaves out the subsidies and franchise agreements that support their monopoly.

DSL Reports has also noticed that this is no longer a partisan issue. Even some Republicans in Tennessee now agree that the laws that prohibit the expansion of EPB service and the adoption of community broadband elsewhere need to go. One Republican is now calling ATT the villain in this story.

But there is a much bigger issue here. DSL Reports notes that:
But last year the FCC decided to jump into the debate and try to dismantle AT&T's protectionist law, saying it conflicted with the FCC's goal of ensuring timely broadband deployment. Nudged by AT&T, Tennessee quickly sued the FCC, claiming the agency was violating states' rights (that AT&T is allowed to write state laws and ignore citizen rights is apparently ok).
When the legislature ignores the people and favors the people with the money, what do we call that? The men and women in the legislature who are ignoring the will of the people were voted into office by the people they serve. Yet, who do they serve? ATT. Does ATT live in that state? They're a corporation with headquarters in Dallas, Texas. Does ATT profit by the rules set by the Tennessee legislature? Sure.

A champion of States Rights has weighed in on the issue, Representative Marsha Blackburn (R-TN). Ms. Blackburn would have us believe that this is a purely philosophical issue:
"We don't need unelected federal agency bureaucrats in Washington telling our states what they can and can't do with respect to protecting their limited taxpayer dollars and private enterprises. As a former state senator from Tennessee, I strongly believe in states' rights. I found it deeply troubling that FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler has repeatedly stated that he intends to preempt states' rights when it comes to the role of state policy over municipal broadband."
I guess it's OK for Ms. Blackburn if unelected corporate officials tell the states what to do instead. Perhaps she was persuaded to take her position by the money she received from the corporations that support her campaign as noted by The Escapist Magazine:
Could a fierce defense of state rights be at the heart of Blackburn's protest? Sure, but it could also have just as much to do with her campaign contributions. Two of Rep. Blackburns top contributors in 2012 and 2014? Verizon Communications, and the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. While the bulk of her campaign contributions come from individuals, she's raised over $190,000 from "TV/Movie/Music" companies in this election cycle, and the 2012 cycle.
So Blackburn can take cover in a philosophical issue while taking huge sums of money from the firms set to profit most from the status quo. Did the people of Tennessee send her to Congress to do that? Judging by the calls to repeal the anti-municipal broadband laws in her own state, I don't think so.

When corporate money gets involved in politics that's a problem. When legislators refuse to listen to their constituents as a silent nod to their corporate benefactors, that's disenfranchisement. People who are disenfranchised are denied the right to a voice in deciding their collective fate. Isn't that slavery?
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