Mayors want better broadband. But instead of making it easier for private companies like Google Fiber or Verizon FiOS to build broadband networks, they want to spend your tax dollars building government-run utilities to compete with private companies.
They also want those private companies to be regulated even more heavily than traditional utilities. Like many advocates, they seem to realize that this extreme form of Net Neutrality will require legislation.
That’s the gist of a new resolution approved by the U.S. conference of mayors.
You’d think that, as they face down staggering levels of debt — $3.7 trillion, eleven times the 1981 level — and even larger unfunded pensions (teachers, policemen, firefighters), mayors might welcome private companies putting money into infrastructure. They’d make it easy to build new broadband networks, right? Well, a few have — in cities like Austin and Kansas City. But few have heeded the advice offered by Google and the Fiber to the Home Council on what it takes to become a fiber-friendly community.
Most mayors, of course, just haven’t really thought the issue through — or aren’t willing to deal with the political headache of reforming how their city handles municipal infrastructure. They’re also unwilling to stand up to the NIMBYism that allows neighborhood activists to stifle progress of all kinds, including installing the small equipment cabinets on sidewalks needed for fiber-to-the-home networks. That’s why Sonic.net has struggled to deploy its network in San Francisco, the tech capital of America, and why Google Fiber is leaving SF out of its Bay Area expansion plans.
But a few politically active mayors have gotten swept up in the cry for government-run broadband — a movement that, ironically, has reached its greatest visibility in the year after Edward Snowden blew the whistle on the NSA’s massive surveillance of the Internet. Many of those most outraged about the NSA want a different, presumably less evil branch of government to run the network. What could possibly go wrong?
On Net neutrality, the resolution calls on the FCC to ban all traffic prioritization — just as the FCC tried to do in 2010. Of course, the D.C. Circuit blocked those rules earlier this year. So now many in Washington are calling on the FCC to reclassify broadband as a public utility under Title II of the Communications Act. But contrary to what many insist, even under Title II, the FCC still can’t ban prioritization. But reclassification would impose a host of other regulations on broadband that would discourage deployment and probably kill new entrants like Sonic.Net and Google Fiber. Twenty years ago, there was a broad consensus on this point, led by New Democrats in the Clinton administration and at the FCC. Yet a radical fringe on the left wants to reverse the pro-deployment policies that have spurred $1.3 trillion in broadband investment since 1996.
But at least the mayors are honest enough to admit that, even under Title II, the FCC can’t ban prioritization. What they don’t acknowledge is that the FCC may not be able to regulate Net Neutrality at all under Section 706 — and that Title II simply isn’t a viable option.