Julius Genachowski’s recent announced that he will step down from his post as FCC chairman. This provides an opportunity to raise important questions about the future of U.S. telecommunications policy to both Pres. Obama and his potential appointee. One of these questions concerns the future of the U.S. Internet and broadband service.
Few Americans know just how poor their service really is. As of April 2012, one-third (33%) of American adults could not access some form of broadband connection from their home, whether via DSL, cable or fiber line or via a wireless service. Akami ranks the U.S. 13th in terms of download data speed. This is not only behind such super-fast countries like South Korea and Japan, but Latvia and Romania as well.
The FCC has managed the decline in U.S. telecom services, reducing America to a 2nd-rate Internet nation. It, like other federal and state agencies, operates through a process commonly known as “regulatory capture.” Regulatory agencies that ostensibly oversee corporate practice to safeguard the interests of consumers and citizens are subject to influence peddling by politicians and corporate lobbyists. The old notion that those serving in government agencies should have an arms-length relationship to the industry they oversee is but a hollow truism from a by-gone past.
The major telecommunications companies, led by AT&T and Verizon are working closely with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to consolidate their control the telecom market. Together, they are promoting policies to reduce the number of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), privatizing the nation’s telecom infrastructure (i.e., the Public Switched Telephone Network or PSTN), pushing new “data caps” limitations to raise rates and moving aggressively to end net neutrality. And the FCC is working hand-in-glove with these corporate interests to facilitate this process.
In the face of this campaign to reduce industry competition and customer choice, efforts are underway throughout the country to provide local Internet alternatives. These efforts range from Google’s 1-Gig network in Kansas City to a variety of community networks and even nonprofit ISPs involving municipal networks and nonprofit corporations.
These efforts, however, are under attack throughout the country. ALEC-backed legislation has been adopted in approximately 20 states to stop local communities from investing in municipal broadband, including Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, Nevada, Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas. Recent battles in Georgia and North Carolina won’t be the last.
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