The bill would also require the recently created Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) to commit to studying the problem itself, while also providing funds to do just that. This is an important step as the past four years have seen a Trump-controlled FCC willing to fabricate data in order to pretend there is competition in the marketplace and movement forward in broadband access being expanded. Considering that Ajit Pai attempted to throw 70% of low-income families off broadband and contracted the broadband subsidy program within weeks of his appointment, the idea that broadband access was expanded even a little under Trump and the Republican-led FCC is a nightmare fantasy concocted by their telecom overlords.
Techdirt’s Karl Bode says the bill has such good common-sense ideas that unless the Democratic Party were somehow able to end the filibuster or get it buried inside of a larger spending bill, it would still be a difficult pass, as the telecommunications industry spends lots and lots of money lobbying to make sure this kind of common-sense legislation does not get through unscathed.
There’s several other things included in the bill that the telecom lobby will simply never allow, like a more competitive and transparent grant and subsidy process, which might (gasp) result in more federal funding going to smaller competitors. There’s also some language that requires paying a competitive rate and not scuttling unionization efforts the industry (and its congressional BFFs) will never tolerate. I guess the Democrats assume that because Covid is adding historic pressure on lawmakers to do more about broadband, they can somehow get the GOP (and centrist Democrat) votes needed to push this across the finish line.
The problem of affordable internet access has been around since the advent of broadband internet in the United States, and as education and general communications have become more and more reliant on internet access and availability, the digital divide has grown in much the same way, just like the divide between the rich and poor. The divide also disproportionally affects marginalized communities, frequently down racial lines, as we have sadly come to expect in our country. As such, the last administration’s war on non-rich people, and more acutely on people of color and communities of color, meant that every attempt was made to claw back the already meager services being offered up to help our country’s communication structure evolve with the times.
One of the more realistic paths for this very sensible piece of legislation would be to include it inside of any large-scale infrastructure plan the Democratic Party and President Biden are hopefully starting to work on. Our country’s infrastructure needs rebuilding and upgrading in the worst way, and everybody wants those changes to be made.