In recent years, an increasing number of local communities have started looking into the possibilities of developing broadband infrastructure. One of the reasons they often cite for their investigations is the desire to increase competition for broadband services. In California, public interest groups recently put out the alarm about AB 1366, a bill introduced in February that will strengthen the power of monopolies in the state.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) posted an article about the bill in March, in which they described AB 1366 as a state-level version of “the Federal Communications Commission’s lead to abandon oversight over a highly concentrated, uncompetitive market.”
AB 1366 removes the 2019 sunset from a bill passed last year that prohibits state or local governments from taking any steps to regulate or create standards for VoIP or broadband services (“Internet enabled services”). The ban on state and local “laws, rules, regulations, ordinance, standards, orders or other provisions” will be permanent if AB 1366 passes. California will relinquish oversight of the activities of the major national Internet access companies, such as AT&T and Comcast, putting all trust in these companies and removing local and state authority.
Bad News for New Entrants
If California denies itself and its local governments the ability to make policy changes, it will also prevent cities from taking action to encourage new entrants into the marketplace. Californians will suffer and monopoly providers will gain by removing the power to increase choice.
In San Franciso, the city passed an ordinance that banned a traditional practice in which landlords prevented competitive ISPs from entering their buildings in exchange for kickbacks from one ISP that wanted to serve the entire building. As a result, new entrants, such as fixed wireless Internet access company Monkeybrains, had no access to potential subscribers — even those who wanted to sign up. After San Francisco changed local policy, which would not be allowed in an environment described in AB 1366, Monkeybrains was able to offer services in more buildings, creating competition for the incumbent ISPs, and as a result, improving services for every one.
Likewise, local government needs to maintain control over the poles and conduit in their rights-of-way in order to facilitate better connectivity. Access to those assets typically doesn’t consider the possibility that telephone and cable companies beyond the traditional monopoly providers would ever require access to those routes. Without the ability to change their local rules, regulations, or policies, local communities will be hamstrung in using these valuable tools to encourage competition.
Big Guys Love It
Frontier, Verizon and AT&T (through the CTIA), and Comcast (via the CCTA) have been engaged in the usual lobbying in the State Capitol to pass the bill. With the chance to continue operating with little or no oversight into the future, all but guaranteeing their positions as monopoly players in the state, AB 1366 is the type of bill that the large corporate providers can’t pass up.
AB 1366 has been referred to the Committee on Communications and Conveyance, and will be heard April 24th (tomorrow!). EFF is encouraging Californians who want more competition in the broadband marketplace to call or email their Assembly Members and express their opposition to the bill.
Another option is to call or email the members of the Communications and Conveyance Committee and tell them that you want more competition in Internet enabled services, such as broadband and VoIP services, and you believe AB 1366 will have the opposite effect. Stopping this bill early in the legislative process is the best way to end its progress.