Pluralistic: Big Telco's fury over FCC plan to infuse telecoms policy with facts (10 Nov 2023)


Today's links



An old photo of a 19th century telephone transmission tower with thousands of wires streaming off of it. The three wise monkeys are arrayed around it, with string-connected tin cans joining them. The top spires of the tower all sport American flags.

Big Telco's fury over FCC plan to infuse telecoms policy with facts (permalink)

Reality has a distinct anti-conservative bias, but conservatives have an answer: when the facts don't support your policies, just get different facts. Who needs evidence-based policy when you can have policy-based evidence?

Take gun violence. Conservatives tell us that "an armed society is a polite society," which means that the more guns you have, the less gun violence you'll experience. To prevent reality from unfairly staining this pristine ideological mind-palace with facts, conservatives passed the Dickey Amendment, which had the effect of banning the CDC from gathering stats on American gun-violence. No stats, no violence!

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dickey_Amendment

Policy-based evidence is at the core of so many cherished conservative beliefs, like the idea that queer people (and not youth pastors) are responsible for the sexual abuse of children, or the idea that minimum wages (and not monopolies) decrease jobs, or the idea that socialized medicine (and not private equity) leads to death panels:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/04/26/death-panels/#what-the-heck-is-going-on-with-CMS

The Biden administration features a sizable cohort of effective regulators, whose job is to gather evidence and then make policy from it:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/10/23/getting-stuff-done/#praxis

Fortunately for conservatives, not every Biden agency is led by competent, honest brokers – the finance wing of the Dems got to foist some of their most ghoulish members upon the American people, including a no-fooling cheerleader for mass foreclosure:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/03/06/personnel-are-policy/#janice-eberly

And these same DINOs reached across the aisle to work with Republicans to keep some of the most competent, principled agency leaders from being seated, like the remarkable Gigi Sohn, targeted by a homophobic smear campaign funded by the telco industry, who feared her presence on the FCC:

https://pluralistic.net/2023/03/19/culture-war-bullshit-stole-your-broadband/

The telcos are old hands at this stuff. Long before the gun control debates, Ma Bell had figured out that a monopoly over Americans' telecoms was a license to print money, and they set to corrupting agencies from the FCC to the DoJ:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/11/14/jam-to-day/

Reality has a vicious anti-telco bias. Think of Net Neutrality, the idea that if you pay an ISP for internet service, they should make a best effort to deliver the data you request, rather than deliberately slowing down your connection in the hopes that you'll seek out data from the company's preferred partners, who've paid a bribe for "premium delivery."

This shouldn't even be up for debate. The idea that your ISP should prioritize its preferred data over your preferred data is as absurd as the idea that a taxi-driver should slow down your rides to any pizzeria except Domino's, which has paid it for "premium service." If your cabbie circled the block twice every time you asked for a ride to Massimo's Pizza, you'd be rightly pissed – and the cab company would be fined.

Back when Ajit Pai was Trump's FCC chairman, he made killing Net Neutrality his top priority. But regulators aren't allowed to act without evidence, so Pai had to seek out as much policy-based evidence as he could. To that end, Pai allowed millions of obviously fake comments to be entered into the docket (comments from dead people, one million comments from @pornhub.com address, comments from sitting Senators who disavowed them, etc). Then Pai actively – and illegally – obstructed the NY Attorney General's investigation into the fraud:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/05/06/boogeration/#pais-lies

The pursuit of policy-based evidence is greatly aided by the absence of real evidence. If you're gonna fill the docket with made-up nonsense, it helps if there's no truthful stuff in there to get in the way. To that end, the FCC has systematically avoided collecting data on American broadband delivery, collecting as little objective data as possible:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/05/26/pandemic-profiteers/#flying-blind

This willful ignorance was a huge boon to the telcos, who demanded billions in fed subsidies for "underserved areas" and then just blew it on anything they felt like – like the $45 billion of public money they wasted on obsolete copper wiring for rural "broadband" expansion under Trump:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/02/27/all-broadband-politics-are-local/

Like other cherished conservative delusions, the unsupportable fantasy that private industry is better at rolling out broadband is hugely consequential. Before the pandemic, this meant that America – the birthplace of the internet – had the slowest, most expensive internet service of any G8 country. During the lockdown, broadband deserts meant that millions of poor and rural Americans were cut off from employment, education, health care and family:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/02/12/ajit-pai/#pai

Pai's response was to commit another $8 billion in public funds to broadband expansion, but without any idea of where the broadband deserts were – just handing more money over to monopoly telcos to spend as they see fit, with zero accountability:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/05/26/pandemic-profiteers/#flying-blind

All that changed after the 2020 election. Pai was removed from office (and immediately blocked me on Twitter) (oh, diddums), and his successor, Biden FCC chair Jessic Rosenworcel, started gathering evidence, soliciting your broadband complaints:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/03/23/parliament-of-landlords/#fcc

And even better, your broadband speed measurements:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/14/for-sale-green-indulgences/#fly-my-pretties

All that evidence spurred Congress to act. In 2021, Congress ordered the FCC to investigate and punish discrimination in internet service provision, "based on income level, race, ethnicity, color, religion, or national origin":

https://www.congress.gov/117/plaws/publ58/PLAW-117publ58.pdf

In other words, Congress ordered the FCC to crack down on "digital redlining." That's when historic patterns of underinvestment in majority Black neighborhoods and other underserved communities create broadband deserts, where internet service is slower and more expensive than service literally across the street:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/06/10/flicc/#digital-divide

FCC Chair Rosenworcel has published the agency's plan for fulfilling this obligation. It's pretty straightforward: they're going to collect data on pricing, speed and other key service factors, and punish companies that practice discrimination:

https://www.fcc.gov/document/preventing-digital-discrimination-broadband-internet-access

This has provoked howls of protests from the ISP cartel, their lobbying org, and their Republican pals on the FCC. Writing for Ars Technica, Jon Brodkin rounds up a selection of these objections:

https://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2023/11/internet-providers-say-the-fcc-should-not-investigate-broadband-prices/

There's GOP FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, with a Steve Bannon-seque condemnation of "the administrative state [taking] effective control of all Internet services and infrastructure in the US. He's especially pissed that the FCC is going to regulate big landlords who force all their tenants to get slow, expensive from ISPs who offer kickbacks to landlords:

https://www.fcc.gov/document/carr-opposes-bidens-internet-plan

The response from telco lobbyists NCTA is particularly, nakedly absurd: they demand that the FCC exempt price from consideration of whether an ISP is practicing discrimination, calling prices a "non-technical aspect of broadband service":

https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/110897268295/1

I mean, sure – it's easy to prove that an ISP doesn't discriminate against customers if you don't ask how much they charge! "Sure, you live in a historically underserved neighborhood, but technically we'll give you a 100mb fiber connection, provided you give us $20m to install it."

This is a profoundly stupid demand, but that didn't stop the wireless lobbying org CTIA from chiming in with the same talking points, demanding that the FCC drop plans to collect data on "pricing, deposits, discounts, and data caps," evaluation of price is unnecessary in the competitive wireless marketplace":

https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/1107735021925/1

Individual cartel members weighed in as well, with AT&T and Verizon threatening to sue over the rules, joined by yet another lobbying group, USTelecom:

https://www.fcc.gov/ecfs/document/1103655327582/1

The next step in this playbook is whipping up the low-information base by calling this "socialism" and mobilizing some of the worst-served, most-gouged people in America to shoot themselves in the face (again), to own the libs:

https://pluralistic.net/2022/12/15/useful-idiotsuseful-idiots/#unrequited-love

(Image: Japanexperterna.se, CC BY-SA 2.0; www.ccPixs.com, Mike Mozart 1, 2, 3, CC BY 2.0; modified)


Hey look at this (permalink)



A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago We’ve had Napster since 1909, and the sky still hasn’t fallen http://earlyradiohistory.us/1909musi.htm

#10yrsago Fruitfly evolved pictures of ants on its wings https://www.thenationalnews.com/uae/science/fruit-fly-with-the-wings-of-beauty-1.364064/#ixzz2jhxlLGaH

#10yrsago Rich America versus Poor America: stats about the wealth gap https://web.archive.org/web/20131108055750/https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-11-07/which-america-do-you-live-–-21-hard-believe-facts-about-wealthy-america-and-poor-ame

#10yrsago Letter from a Chinese forced-labor camp found in Kmart Hallowe’en decorations https://consumerist.com/2013/11/07/inside-the-chinese-labor-camp-that-made-halloween-decorations-sold-at-kmart/

#10yrsago Employment advice for Millennials https://medium.com/the-nib/six-totally-easy-tips-for-millennials-to-get-ahead-in-todays-economy-5451617c78de

#10yrsago Burglar surprised to discover the lady he’s robbing is an armed ax-throwing champ https://www.cbsnews.com/losangeles/news/ax-wielding-woman-chases-thief-away-in-hemet/

#10yrsago Toronto’s crack-smoking mayor, covered in the style of foreign affairs https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2013/11/06/canadian-regime-roiled-by-provincial-scandal-sparking-fears-of-instability/

#5yrsago Talking about the DMCA and 20 years of tech law malpractice on PRI’s Marketplace https://www.marketplace.org/shows/marketplace-tech/20-year-old-digital-copyright-law-still-being-fought-about-and-copied-today/

#5yrsago Wells Fargo cuts 26,500 jobs, shutters branches, declares “excess capital” and drops $40.6 billion on stock buybacks https://rooseveltinstitute.org/2018/11/07/what-wells-fargos-40-6-billion-in-stock-buybacks-could-have-meant-for-its-employees-and-customers/

#5yrsago 90% of Canadians want to kill future Saudi arms deals https://angusreid.org/saudi-arabia-canada-khashoggi/

#1yrago Tech a la carte https://pluralistic.net/2022/11/08/divisibility/#technognosticism



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Slashdot (https://slashdot.org).

Currently writing:

  • A Little Brother short story about DIY insulin PLANNING

  • Picks and Shovels, a Martin Hench noir thriller about the heroic era of the PC. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS JAN 2025

  • The Bezzle, a Martin Hench noir thriller novel about the prison-tech industry. FORTHCOMING TOR BOOKS FEB 2024

  • Vigilant, Little Brother short story about remote invigilation. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

  • Moral Hazard, a short story for MIT Tech Review's 12 Tomorrows. FIRST DRAFT COMPLETE, ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION

  • Spill, a Little Brother short story about pipeline protests. FORTHCOMING ON TOR.COM

Latest podcast: The Canadian Miracle, Part 2 (https://craphound.com/news/2023/11/05/the-canadian-miracle-part-2/
Upcoming appearances:

Recent appearances:

Latest books:

Upcoming books:

  • The Lost Cause: a post-Green New Deal eco-topian novel about truth and reconciliation with white nationalist militias, Tor Books, November 2023

  • The Bezzle: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about prison-tech and other grifts, Tor Books, February 2024

  • Picks and Shovels: a sequel to "Red Team Blues," about the heroic era of the PC, Tor Books, February 2025

  • Unauthorized Bread: a graphic novel adapted from my novella about refugees, toasters and DRM, FirstSecond, 2025


This work – excluding any serialized fiction – is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 license. That means you can use it any way you like, including commercially, provided that you attribute it to me, Cory Doctorow, and include a link to pluralistic.net.

https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Quotations and images are not included in this license; they are included either under a limitation or exception to copyright, or on the basis of a separate license. Please exercise caution.


How to get Pluralistic:

Blog (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

Pluralistic.net

Newsletter (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

https://pluralistic.net/plura-list

Mastodon (no ads, tracking, or data-collection):

https://mamot.fr/@pluralistic

Medium (no ads, paywalled):

https://doctorow.medium.com/

Twitter (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

https://twitter.com/doctorow

Tumblr (mass-scale, unrestricted, third-party surveillance and advertising):

https://mostlysignssomeportents.tumblr.com/tagged/pluralistic

"When life gives you SARS, you make sarsaparilla" -Joey "Accordion Guy" DeVilla

%d bloggers like this: