Back in December I wrote a feature for The Verge exploring the FCC’s long overdue effort to stop race and class discrimination in broadband deployment. For decades, big telecoms have not only refused to evenly upgrade broadband in low income and poor areas (despite billions in subsidies for this exact purpose), they’ve charged poor and minority neighborhoods significantly more money.
So last year the FCC announced they’d be crafting new rules that attempt to put an end to it. While the rules are a welcome and belated admission by the government that this discrimination actually exists, they don’t really do anything about past instances of discrimination. Nor is it particularly clear that the generally feckless FCC will do a good (or transparent) job actually enforcing them.
Despite the fact that the rules aren’t particularly robust, Republicans have, as usual, rushed to the defense of the broadband industry in a bid to eliminate them. 65 US House Republications submitted a resolution of disapproval claiming, falsely, that the Biden administration was using the pretense of “equity” to “expand the federal government’s control of all Internet services and infrastructure”:
“Rep. Andrew Clyde (R-Ga.) alleged that the ‘FCC’s so-called ‘digital discrimination’ rule hands bureaucrats unmitigated regulatory authority that will undoubtedly impede innovation, burden consumers, and generate censorship concerns,” and that it is an “unconstitutional power grab.’”
This is the perpetual doom cycle U.S. telecom policy has inhabited for 30 odd years.
Democrats weakly propose long overdue but meekly enforced rules to address a problem they’ve ignored for the better part of thirty years. Republicans pop up to proclaim these bare-minimum efforts are somehow a “radical socialist takeover of the internet” (or some variant), which “both sides” news outlets parrot without much in the way of skepticism, giving the GOP unearned credibility on policy.
It doesn’t matter whether it’s broadband privacy, net neutrality, racial discrimination, or even very basic efforts to stop your cable company from ripping you off with bullshit fees. The pretense is always that the government doing the absolute bare minimum is, in reality, a “radical government running amok.”
Lost in press coverage is the fact that Republicans (and some key Democrats) have always operated in corrupt policy lockstep with giant regional monopolies, working tirelessly to help them fatten revenues by waging an all out war on both meaningful competition and competent regulatory oversight. While throwing billions of dollars at said companies in exchange for half-deployed broadband networks and job creation promises that never materialize. You can very obviously see the result.
Unlike when the GOP killed broadband privacy rules in 2017, they can’t scuttle these rules using the Congressional Review Act since they don’t hold the Senate. So they’ll work with telecom giants AT&T, Comcast, and Charter to bog the implementation of the rules down in the courts, awaiting a looming Supreme Court decision that will soon undermine most independent regulatory authority.
All the while, minority and poor neighborhoods stuck under expensive, shitty monopolized broadband access continue to struggle to gain access to an increasingly essential utility. I don’t see a way out of this perpetual cycle of policy dysfunction without a full frontal assault on corruption, and it’s very clear we’ll be waiting indefinitely for anything of the sort.
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