Broadband is undoubtedly a critical tool for business development, education, and countless other facets of a modern society. So why isn’t Congress talking about making broadband deployment easier?
Last year, the White House took positive steps to make “broadband construction projects along Federal roadways and properties cheaper and more efficient.” Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA) sponsors legislation that directs the DOT to “expand broadband at a fraction of the cost by including [broadband conduits] as roads are already being built.” Google Fiber released a checklist of best practices that cities can adopt to prepare themselves for new networks. FTTH (Fiber to the Home) outlines a series of steps that communities should consider to clear a path for and work with a prospective broadband provider.
There is bipartisan support for commonsense policies that would spur broadband deployment, and elected officials have helpful tools to guide them in the right direction. So, again, why isn’t Congress talking about making broadband deployment easier?
FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler and Senate Democrats have instead set their sights on state laws that restrict municipal (muni) broadband. While we appreciate their concern for the rights of local governments to attempt to create their own networks, their efforts are misguided. The very local governments they want to empower are the principal barriers to private broadband deployment. If advanced services such as Google Fiber, Verizon FIOS, AT&T U-Verse and Sonic.Net had easier entry into new markets, no one would be talking about spending tax dollars on muni broadband (instead of filling potholes or paying teachers).
We’ve long argued that local governments are choking broadband competition, which results in less consumer choice, higher costs, and slower speeds. In a piece for Wired.com, our own Berin Szoka and Jon Henke illustrated the red tape that prevents ISPs from deploying broadband infrastructure:
Before building out new networks, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) must negotiate with local governments for access to publicly owned “rights of way” so they can place their wires above and below both public and private property. ISPs also need “pole attachment” contracts with public utilities so they can rent space on utility poles…The problem? Local governments and their public utilities charge ISPs far more than these things actually cost…[It’s] essentially a game of forced kickbacks.
Muni broadband, while perhaps appealing at first glance, would enable local governments to selectively remove barriers to their own networks while leaving private companies in the dust. If cities follow this path:
Local politicians and regulators could then take credit for new high-speed broadband without giving up the exorbitant fees and other kickbacks they can force incumbent providers to pay today.
Rather than creating taxpayer-funded networks, cities should be creating the conditions for private providers to expand. The reaction of many cities to Google Fiber provides a good example of how localities can do more right now to encourage deployment at the local level. At the federal level, the most important step is a Congressional update of the 1996 Telecom Act to ease and encourage competitive deployment.