Stevens Bill III– The Bad Stuff (Munibroadband)

The Stevens Bill contains a section called “Municipal Broadband” (Title V) and calls itself the “Community Broadband Act of 2006.” Given that that McCain and Lautenberg introduced a pro-munibroadband bill in 2005 called “The Community Boradband Act of 2005,” and that the House overwhelmingly adopted language identical to the McCain-Lautenberg language in COPE, you might think that I would put Title V in the “Good Parts” section.

GOTCHA! That clever Senator Stevens, who apparently has confused the definition of “competition” and “cartel” (Hey, they both begin with “C”! He’s old! Give the man a break!), has tricked you! Like predators in nature that camoflage themselves to look like pretty flowers before they SPRING UPON THEIR HELPLESS PREY AND DEVOUR THEM, The Stevens “Community Broadband Act” will allow local governments to give gobs of money to private companies, but will not allow local governments to do something as outrageous as compete with private companies.

Impressed? Amazed? Astounded? Well see below . . . .

As you may recall, COPE (the House Bill on franchising and Network Neutrality) contained one good provision — it prohibitted states from banning municipal networks. At Committee mark up, the full Committee overwhelmingly defeated proposed amendments to kill this provision, or even to grandfather existing state muni-bans. Seems like consensus, right.

The Hon. Senator from Alaska, who apparently loves markets with such fervor that he will destroy them in order to protect them, has made a critical change in the language between his “Community Broadband Act” (Title V of the overall bill) and the language used in COPE. The Stevens Community Broadband Act of 2006 (not to be confused with the far superior Community Broadband Act of 2005 introduced by Senators McCain and Lautenberg starts by repeating the language of COPE (which used the same language as the McCain-Lautenberg Bill), but this good language only applies if the government partners with a private entity. In other words, local and state governments should feel free to hire private companies as in Philadelphia and San Francisco, but governments that actually want to serve their citizens, like St. Cloud, Florida, Kutztown, PA, New Orleans, LA, etc. etc. are out of luck

To protect the fragile telcos and cable cos, which face collapse unless protected against this socialist assault, Stevens has thoughtfully included a new section to his “Community Broadband Act” not found in the McCain-Lautenberg “Community Broadband Act” (or COPE). This new section, entitled “Protection Against Undue Government Competition With Private Sector,” requires a state or local government that wants to directly own and operate a broadband network to subject itself to a private sector veto by puting the project out for bid first (the “Pennsylvania Plan”).

This presents a huge problem because, as I wote last year in an opinion piece for Esme Vos’ excellent Muniwireless site, protecting local residents from monopoly exploitation may push localities to provide broadband. If a locality has one provider, or two providers, and these private sector companies provide bad service at ridiculous prices (shocking, I know), then local government can set up a competing operation or can provide wholesale capacity for potential competitors. Even the threat of such action may well force a local cable or telco to clean up its act, lower its prices, fix outages promptly, and actually show up at the time it promised for fear that the local citizens will vote to create a real competitor.

The Stevens “Community Broadband Act” puts a stop to that! We wouldn’t want our friends in the cable/telco duopoly to face “undue” competition. So the Stevens Bill gives these companies the right to veto any such pesky local initiatives. So rest easy you AT&T’s and Comcasts of the world, “Uncle Ted” has your back! No, don’t thank him now, that can wait until it re-election time when we need those PAC checks.

[Excuse me for a moment while I am briefly possesed by the spirit of Stephen Colbert.]

And lets face it, “Uncle Ted” has a point. I mean, look at what happens when you let voters decide on whether to set up competing municipal systems. Those stupid consumers actually want to have a say in what services their local governments provide! I mean, look at Lafayette, LA. Bellsouth and Cox already provided service to Lafayette. How much competition do those people need for gosh sakes? And, when Bellsouth and Cox got a court order forcing Lafayette to hold a public referendum on whether to finance the system, those stupid consumers still voted 2-1 to build the municipal system anyway!. After Bellsouth and Cox Cable spent over a million dollars, engaged in push-polling, used all the right words like “competition” and “socialism” and “limited government,” and did everything companies are supposed to do to corrupt democracy, THEY STILL LOST! I mean, what the heck do those consumers in Lafayette think they are, CITIZENS?

People, people people. You are consumers. Your job [pause] is [pause] to CONSUME. Yes, we occassiionally ask you to take part in a little empty ritual “voting” to chose which virtually identical party will get to hand out political patronage for the next two years. But thats only so we can claim the moral high ground as a “democracy” when we invade foreign countries that DON’T have ritual voting. That’s it! You’re not supposed to take all this “democracy” stuff seriously. Once the voting is over, you go home, watch TV, and wait until we tell you when to vote again. Participating in government and making these kinds of decisions only detracts from valuable consumer time you could spend buying things to help the Chinese economy.

So who can blame Senator Ted Stevens, “fightin’ Uncle Ted,” from wanting to save us from ourselves? Isn’t that what free markets and deregulation are about, government saving us from ourselves? And who better to override local control, protect big cartels from local competition, and decide what’s best for us because we can’t govern ourselves, than the party of Ronald Regan and Teddy Roosevelt?

[Back to Harold again.]

So, as with the broadast flag provision, we will pause to savor the hypocracy of a “pro-competition” bill that has to save private industry from “undue competition.” Although, if you ask me, Stevens went a little overboard on the hypocracy spice that so heavily flavors this industry pork-barrel stew. But I keep kosher, so flavoring industry pork is not exactly my forte.

Up next, savaging network neutrality.

Next posts on Stevens Bill:
Impact on Network Neutrality
A Network Neutrality Primer

Previous posts on Stevens Bill:
What to like in the Stevens Bill: White Spaces and Program Access
Return of the Broadcast Flag

Stay tuned . . . .

One Comment

  1. A regulated monopoly is far less damaging than an unregulated duopoly.

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