When state legislators in Tennessee recently passed the Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017, tech writers quoted our Christopher Mitchell, who pointed out that the proposal has some serious pitfalls.
Christopher's statement appeared in several articles:
"Tennessee taxpayers may subsidize AT&T to build DSL service to Chattanooga's [rural] neighbors rather than letting the Gig City [Chattanooga] expand its fiber at no cost to taxpayers. Tennessee will literally be paying AT&T to provide a service 1,000 times slower than what Chattanooga could provide without subsidies."
Motherboard noted that the Tennessee legislature had the opportunity to pass a bill, sponsored by Senator Janice Bowling, to grant municipal electric utilities the ability to expand and serve nearby communities. Nope. Legislators in Tennessee would rather pander to the incumbent providers that come through year after year with generous campaign contributions:
To be clear: EPB wanted to build out its gigabit fiber network to many of these same communities using money it has on hand or private loans at no cost to taxpayers. It would then charge individual residents for Internet service. Instead, Tennessee taxpayers will give $45 million in tax breaks and grants to giant companies just to get basic infrastructure built. They will then get the opportunity to pay these companies more money for worse Internet than they would have gotten under EPB's proposal.
The Motherboard reporter quoted Bowling from a prior article (because, like the movie "Groundhog Day," she keeps finding herself in the same situation year after year):
"What we have right now is not the free market, it's regulations protecting giant corporations, which is the exact definition of crony capitalism," she said.
TechDirt Gets Personal
Karl Bode from TechDirt, in his usual pull-no-punches style, described the Tennessee legislature as “pay-to-play.” Bode reminds readers that Tennessee’s own Department of Economic and Community Development determined in 2016 that the state of connectivity in rural areas is just plain dire. Why?
If you want to understand what's wrong with the American broadband industry, you need look no further than Tennessee. The state is consistently ranked as one of the least connected, least competitive broadband markets in the country, thanks in large part to Comcast and AT&T's stranglehold over politicians like Marsha Blackburn. Lawmakers like Blackburn have let Comcast and AT&T lobbyists quite literally write protectionist state laws for the better part of a decade with an unwavering, singular focus: protecting incumbent revenues from competition and market evolution.
TechSpot looked beyond Tennessee at the big picture:
While this may seem to be a localized problem for Chattanooga, it can be applied across the country. Think about how many Internet providers that you have in your area. Do you think your lack of options is by accident?
Internet providers have long held customers between a rock and a hard place. Most of the time they overcharge for unreliable service with bloated bundles and poor customer service. They can get away with this not only because they have limited competition, but because lawmakers have their backs with restrictive regulatory demands.
InfoWorld included coverage of the recent Pew Research survey that revealed overwhelming support for local telecommunications authority. They show the irony behind the fact that so many support Internet access from municipal networks, but Tennessee elected officials would rather stop munis at the gate and fork over millions of taxpayer funds for inferior service.
Local Coverage, WBBJ
Jackson, Tennessee, is home to the Jackson Energy Authority (JEA), which offers gigabit connectivity via its Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) municipal network. The local news WBBJ ran a story about the bill and featured ILSR’s criticism of the approach. Our preemption fact sheet makes a small cameo.