WASHINGTON D.C. — Yesterday, the White House released a white paper on “Community-Based Broadband Solutions,” which President Obama will speak about today as part of a series of previews of his State of the Union Speech. TechFreedom President Berin Szoka offered the following comment:
Yes, Americans want faster, cheaper broadband — and more competition. So why, among the three American cities with gigabit speeds, did President Obama choose the one where service is twice as expensive? Because this isn’t really about broadband competition; it’s about pushing government-run Internet, the ultimate fantasy of the Digital Left. That’s why the President is speaking in Cedar Falls, Iowa, lavishing praise on its government-run network, instead of in Kansas City or Austin, where privately financed Google Fiber offers gigabit service for half the price ($70/month).
The White House Report does call on the “Federal Government to remove all unnecessary regulatory and policy barriers to broadband build-out and competition.” That would be a welcome change. But if the President were serious about removing barriers to broadband deployment and competition, he wouldn’t have called on the FCC to impose Title II, public utility regulations on the Internet — the surest way to stifle broadband deployment and competition. He would also have mentioned the good news story about progress being made today by private companies: not just Google Fiber in a few cities but the enormous progress made just last year by telcos upgrading their old DSL networks to make 25-100 mbps service available to over half of the country.
The greatest regulatory barriers to deployment are local, not Federal: cities make it painfully difficult to deploy new infrastructure. Google Fiber’s great accomplishment is convincing cities to get out of the way. Yet the White House focuses entirely on cities as the solution — not by cutting red tape, but by building their own networks to compete with private providers. That means taxpayer dollars that should go to pay teachers and fix potholes, are instead squandered on inefficient and expensive networks.Governments, unlike private companies, can simply borrow and throw money at broadband projects until they “work,” leaving taxpayers on the hook.
Provo Utah sunk $39 million into a fiber network before realizing that it wasn’t very good at running it — and selling the network to Google for $1. Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars on things private capital will do if given the chance, cities should make deployment easy while investing in fiber-ready infrastructure. San Francisco, for example, is currently replacing all its sewer lines but failing to install “Dig Once” conduits as it opens up the City’s streets. Leasing access to those to private broadband providers could greatly the cost of deploying new fiber networks.
For President Obama, the answer always seems to be a new government program — regardless of the economics or the law. He doesn’t seem to care that what he’s asking the FCC to do, preempt state laws governing muni broadband, is unconstitutional — because Congress hasn’t clearly authorized the FCC to supersede state authority. And once again, he’s interfering with the decision-making of what’s supposed to be an independent regulatory agency.
If Obama actually wanted to get anything done, he’d dust off the Communications Act Update passed by House Republicans in 2006 (with the support of most Democrats). That bill clearly authorized municipal broadband — a decision that Congress, not the FCC or the President alone can make — but required cities to first give private companies a chance to bid for new deployment, get public support for what could be enormous taxpayer liabilities, and give private providers equal treatment. Government-run broadband should always be a last resort. First, let’s try a different approach: Let a thousand Google Fibers bloom.
Szoka can be reached for comment at email@example.com, and see our other work on muni broadband and broadband deployment, including:
- A Third Way on Muni Broadband: Governments Must Remove Barriers to Private Broadband Deployment, summarizing reply comments filed by TechFreeedom and the International Center for Law & Economics on petitions asking the FCC to preempt state laws
- “Don’t Blame Big Cable. It’s Local Governments That Choke Broadband Competition,” an op-ed by TF’s Berin Szoka and Jon Henke
- “Congress Must Make Broadband Deployment Easier,” a post on TF’s blog highlighting the pitfalls of municipal broadband
“Next-Gen DSL Shatters “Cable Monopoly” Myth,” a statement from TechFreedom