Community Broadband networks are increasingly getting the attention they deserve as an option for communities that want better, more accountable connections to the Internet.
We have long been warning about an AT&T-pushed bill in South Carolina to make it even harder for communities in that state to build the infrastructure AT&T has long neglected. But now The New Republic has also noticed — in “Why are Telecom Companies Blocking rural America from Getting High-Speed Internet?“
The story starts by discussing rural and impoverished Orangeburg County, which received a stimulus award to help build the telecom infrastructure they need to succeed in the modern economy.
In an effort to improve the area’s economic prospects, county officials have worked in recent years to secure funding to refurbish roadways and sewer systems—but they also know that, in a globalized marketplace, old-school infrastructure is not nearly enough. That’s why, in 2009, Orangeburg County applied for, and received, $18.65 million in stimulus money to finally give the area access to high-speed broadband internet. County Administrator Bill Clark and his colleagues envisioned a municipal, or muni, network that could reach roughly a quarter of Orangeburg’s rural population, including just over three thousand households and one hundred businesses.
But the titans of telecom aren’t operating on quite the same wavelength. Since last January, AT&T, CenturyLink, and Time Warner have contributed just over $146,000 to politicians in South Carolina who back legislation that would cripple networks like Orangeburg’s. It’s only one example of a broader campaign by telecom companies to protect their cartel at all costs—even at the expense of keeping the country’s poorest on the wrong side of the digital divide for many years to come.
Same story, different state. We’ve seen the same efforts across the U.S., which is why nineteen states have created barriers to community broadband.
Meanwhile, the source of a lot of those barriers — the American Legislative Exchange Council — or ALEC has been getting attention for the many bad bills they have ushered through state legislators. ALEC is a front group for big corporations, including AT&T, Time Warner Cable, and other big carriers that allows them to wine and dine state legislators as part of a larger strategy to enact the laws they write to advantage themselves.
An article in the Republic Report says, “ALEC wants you to pay 750% more for High-Speed Internet.”
It doesn’t end there either — ALEC is also presently pushing a slew of bills to gut state authority over telecommunications generally. So when AT&T or CenturyLink decide they don’t want to serve high cost rural exchanges, they can just walk away. Or if their service is so bad it borders on unusable, the state Public Utilities Commission will not have the power to require them to fix it.