It's 2012, and while politicians like to proclaim that the United States is a broadband leader, the reality on the ground is anything but. In addition to the millions of DSL customers of smaller phone companies unable to upgrade or unwilling to upgrade their lines, there's still numerous communities that no private company wants to serve at all. While those communities are forced to connect themselves
, the very same companies refusing to serve them continue to push for laws prohibiting those communities from serving themselves.
For years we've covered how multiple states have passed legislation blocking towns and cities from wiring themselves with broadband, even in cases where nobody else would. Such bills became less popular over the years as the public and broader press became aware of what was going on, though that awareness came after nearly a dozen states passed laws either banning or constricting community broadband rights. Some of the bills ban community broadband outright, while others simple saddle such efforts with so much bureaucratic baggage as to help guarantee they'll fail.
Anti-municipal broadband bills are protectionist nonsense crafted by predatory bullies and passed by corrupt political halfwits. It doesn't matter whether you like
the idea of community broadband, and indeed there's often much to dislike in implementation -- but regardless of your beliefs -- local infrastructure decisions should be up to the local community, not a disinterested corporate giant half a world away (especially one that has already failed that community on the connectivity front). Those who support these bills support protectionist rules and government erosion of rights while professing to loathe regulation. They also support the very broken government-for-hire corruption they claim to protest.
As such, it was annoying last year when we saw a resurgence in such efforts when Time Warner Cable convinced North Carolina lawmakers to pass a bill (after four previous failed attempts) limiting community broadband rights
. Now according to Community Broadband Networks
, AT&T and their friends at ALEC are busy at work on a similar bill in South Carolina. AT&T is working to pass a bill that would prohibit communities from picking up the broadband slack left by AT&T in rural markets. There's a lot of slack; reports note that South Carolina's at the bottom of the pack in broadband adoption -- in part because of poverty, and in part because of availability and price.H.3508
has been debated for much of the last year, and despite opposition from informed locals, appears poised to pass. The bill, much like the one in North Carolina, saddles any town or community with so much bureaucratic red tape as to ensure they'll never really succeed. Community broadband is already a risky proposition if incompetent leaders are involved, but the reality remains that these areas wouldn't even be considering the idea if they were happy with private sector service.
The amusing (or disgusting, depending on your mood) thing about AT&T spending millions on lawyers and lobbyists to kill community broadband in the state is that AT&T really has no interest in these customers. South Carolina is at the bottom of the barrel in large part thanks to numerous rural and poor markets AT&T doesn't want to upgrade. AT&T has in fact been pondering selling most of these customers to someone else
, yet they're willing to spend millions on greasing the South Carolina political system just in case
If U.S. broadband leads at anything, it's certainly in the categories of corruption and absurdity.