Op/Ed: ISPs that spent millions stifling deployment, now want more subsidies...
With the Obama campaign planning an economic stimulus package that includes spending at least some of our apparently unlimited trillions on infrastructure (including broadband), lobbyists from all carriers are assaulting Washington with their hands out. Qwest is the latest, writing a love letter
to the Obama transition team asking for money to be doled out to the states, who would in turn request bids from companies proposing to achieve 95% statewide availability of broadband that's 7Mbps or faster. Laments Qwest:
"...while many urban areas have multiple broadband service providers, competitive prices, and speeds in excess of 7 Mbps, many rural areas lack even the most basic broadband offerings."
Qwest's letter probably didn't mention how they were part of the problem. This is the same company that spent millions to prevent municipal fiber efforts from succeeding in Seattle
and specifically Utah
, where the company said it was on "the other side of municipally backed telecom projects" mostly because "of the long-term harm to consumers" caused by wholesale municipal fiber networks offering 50Mbps symmetrical connections. A Qwest executive once asked the question: "Why provide a Rolls-Royce when a Chevrolet will do?"
Why provide a Rolls-Royce when a Chevrolet will do?
-Qwest's Utah President, Jerry Fenn
Years later, once many of those "Rolls Royce" efforts were struggling under Qwest legal assault, the telco finally began offering their slightly faster ADSL2+ service, in limited markets, at speeds of 12Mbps/896kbps or 20Mbps/896kbps.
ADSL2+'s inherent 896kbps upstream limitation is considered "next generation" by Qwest, and is as good as it gets for millions of Qwest customers. Most Qwest customers don't see those speeds. Many can't get DSL at all because Qwest, like most carriers, won't deploy into the nation's less profitable corners. That's their right as publicly traded companies -- but the problem has been they don't want anybody else to, either.
Obamaï¿½s team is supposedly considering a $20-billion to $30-billion plan to expand broadband, centered largely around providing tax breaks to companies willing to extend broadband where it currently isn't available. While that might work (assuming there's adequate followup and follow through), it would make sense to remember that many of these companies already spent millions trying to keep under-served areas from wiring themselves. Most of them also spent millions fighting efforts
to accurately map broadband in this country. Should they be rewarded?
You should also ask yourself who, in Qwest's dream scenario, will map broadband coverage, pick the carriers, and mind the taxpayer money doled out to the States. It will likely be Connected Nation, a group supported by most major incumbents
. Connected Nation has come under fire for being little more than a dog and pony show
, designed by AT&T and others to gobble up State funds while protecting incumbent ISP interests. All the while, making legislators feel good by falsely reporting that their state's broadband infrastructure is just rosy
You'll soon see a flurry of different ideas about how to improve the nation's broadband fortunes, most of them sophisticated ruses, designed by incumbent think tanks and lobbyists. Politicians, technology pundits and individuals need to study these proposals carefully, as carriers have been working very had to design national broadband plans that look good on paper
, but are little more than taxpayer money pits. Many of these proposals have broad, bi-partisan support, but are designed by incumbent lobbyists to derail real, substantive telecom reform.
If the same skepticism applied by "free market" fans to taxpayer-funded municipal broadband is squarely levied upon these taxpayer-funded incumbent slush funds -- carrier lobbyists shouldn't be able to pull the wool over our collective Ethernet ports. We might make it through 2009 with a real, consumer-friendly national broadband plan, but it's going to be a steep uphill climb. Only with increased consumer awareness and a more skeptical press will we collectively get our Rolls Royce. If things remain the same? Enjoy your Chevy.