A top FCC official thinks governments at all levels should use taxpayer money to fund government-run (aka “municipal”) broadband networks.
In a rambling — at times, incoherent — speech at the North Carolina Rural Center’s broadband conference, Jonathan Chambers, the FCC’s Chief of Policy and Strategy, praised an FCC program that provided $100 million to fund municipal broadband networks. Just a “tiny bit of money,” he said, glibly.
Yes. In the world of FCC subsidies, $100 million is “tiny.” While we’re at it, why doesn’t the FCC just give every city in America $100 million to build a broadband network? Because that’s about how much federal stimulus ($111 million, actually) it took to get Chattanooga’s vaunted municipal network started.
Chambers boasted that he had recently been introduced at a conference as “the Moses of rural broadband.”
You know: Moses, the prophet to whom God entrusted his Ten Commandments, who parted the Red Sea, and led the Israelites to the Promised Land. That guy. A real mensch.
Such delusions of messianic grandeur have become common these days at the FCC, as the savior-agency wages a Holy War to save what FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler regularly calls “The. Most. Powerful. Network. Ever.” Besides “burning down the village to save it” — regulating broadband with the the flamethrower of Title II to, you know, promote broadband investment — the FCC is working to put the broadband capitalists out of business. That’s what radical groups like Free Press have pushed the FCC to do for years. As Free Press Founder Robert McChesney put it:
“At the moment, the battle over network neutrality is not to completely eliminate the telephone and cable companies. But the ultimate goal is to get rid of the media capitalists in the phone and cable companies and to divest them from control.”
The FCC wants to use your tax dollars to fund government-owned broadband networks around the country. Oh, sorry, right: those Universal Service Fund and E-Rate fees on your telephone bill pay aren’t technically “taxes” (because the FCC, not Congress, sets the rates). Either way — “Other People’s Money.”
Those “fees” will soon be added to your broadband bills, too. That’s the inevitable result of the FCC’s decision to equate Internet access with landline telephone service — as the legal basis for its “net neutrality” regulations. And even though Congress just extended the moratorium on Internet access taxes, that won’t do anything to stop the FCC’s fees.
The FCC claims municipal broadband networks will enhance competition. In fact, they’re inherently anticompetitive. For example, Chattanooga’s electric-and-broadband utility blocks competition by charging more than twice the national average for the poles it owns on rights of way — the crucial infrastructure built, on public land, that any provider would need. Government-run networks usually charge a lot more than private providers.
When government-run broadband networks fail, taxpayers, of course, eat the losses. The government network in Provo, Utah failed so spectacularly that the city sold the network to Google for only $1, saddling the public with $39 million in debt. A “tiny bit of money” to Chambers, but Provo’s entire budget in 2013 was $159 million.
Chambers may not care much about taxpayers (like, you know, parents), but, boy does he care about kids. That’s why he loves libraries — which he calls “the great gateway drug for kids” in this speech. Like Moses, Chambers’ sees his mission as delivering The Word from the Mountain. For him, that means bringing broadband to libraries — by any means necessary.
That quasi-religious fervor would explain why Chambers would brag so openly about the tactics he’ll use to get what he wants. He describes trying to get E-Rate funding to wire a library. When the FCC official in charge of doling out E-Rate funds didn’t seem interested in Chambers’s proposal, he responded, “if you don’t want to help me on this, I’m not going to help you when you need me.” When his startled colleague protested to Chambers — “you’re making this personal” — Chambers launched into a sermon about the benefits of libraries, and concluded, “Damn right, it’s personal.”
Only a zealot blinded by self-righteousness would brag about such a quid pro quo — such an arbitrary exercise of bureaucratic power. Only a zealot would offer such petty tactics as proof of his noble intentions.
But, really, what else should we expect from The Most Powerful Agency, responsible for preserving The Most Powerful Network?