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The Internet AT&T Businesses Communications Government Network Networking The Almighty Buck

Tennessee Could Give Taxpayers America's Fastest Internet For Free, But It Gave Comcast and AT&T $45 Million Instead (vice.com) 341

Chattanooga, Tennessee is home to some of the fastest internet speeds in the United States, offering city dwellers Gbps and 10 Gpbs connections. Instead of voting to expand those connections to the rural areas surrounding the city, which have dial up, satellite, or no internet whatsoever, Tennessee's legislature voted to give Comcast and AT&T a $45 million taxpayer handout. Motherboard reports: The situation is slightly convoluted and thoroughly infuriating. EPB -- a power and communications company owned by the Chattanooga government -- offers 100 Mbps, 1 Gbps, and 10 Gpbs internet connections. A Tennessee law that was lobbied for by the telecom industry makes it illegal for EPB to expand out into surrounding areas, which are unserved or underserved by current broadband providers. For the last several years, EPB has been fighting to repeal that state law, and even petitioned the Federal Communications Commission to try to get the law overturned. This year, the Tennessee state legislature was finally considering a bill that would have let EPB expand its coverage (without providing it any special tax breaks or grants; EPB is profitable and doesn't rely on taxpayer money). Rather than pass that bill, Tennessee has just passed the "Broadband Accessibility Act of 2017," which gives private telecom companies -- in this case, probably AT&T and Comcast -- $45 million of taxpayer money over the next three years to build internet infrastructure to rural areas.
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Tennessee Could Give Taxpayers America's Fastest Internet For Free, But It Gave Comcast and AT&T $45 Million Instead

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  • America! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:04AM (#54221005)

    Making legislated monopolies great again!

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Maybe after you twats realize Democrats also voted for the bill, you could stop letting them get away with goddamn murder while you scream "REEEEEEEEE" at only half of the problem.

      https://legiscan.com/TN/bill/H... [legiscan.com]

      Facts? Get those goddamn facts out of here.

    • legislated or otherwise. A lot of folks want these things left in private hands, but they also want the government to take an active role so that rural communities have access at a price they can afford. If you want those two things together the only solution is subsidies. Big ones. Otherwise you have to accept some level of nationalization or state run utilities. Usually you're talking nationalization since the money's coming from the Fed in a lot of cases (since most states with big rural populations don'
  • Money well spent. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Government working for it's constituents at the finest.

    • Re:Money well spent. (Score:5, Informative)

      by Shatrat ( 855151 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:12AM (#54221069)

      A politician's constituents are the people who donated the most to their campaign.

      • Re:Money well spent. (Score:4, Interesting)

        by methano ( 519830 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @10:21AM (#54221511)
        This has gotten to be standard fare. About 6 or 7 years ago, Wilson NC, fed up with Comcast or some such equally evil monopoly, took the bull by the horns and installed fiber throughout the city and gave everybody 1 Gbit service for $40 a month. Anyhow, the NC legislature, bought and paid for, almost immediately passed a law banning such practices. And that was with a Democrat as Governor, though a very Republican legislature would have overridden if she had the guts to veto. And so we all bent over and let TWC put it to us for another 5 years. When AT&T showed up, things got slightly better. The remote works pretty well now.
    • The best government money can buy.

  • by Zontar_Thing_From_Ve ( 949321 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:19AM (#54221099)
    This is what happens when you let one party have a complete stranglehold on state government. The number of Republicans in the state senate are almost 6 to 1 in favor of Republicans. It's almost 3-1 in favor of Republicans in the state house. The governor in Republican and there's no accountability. Voters have shown consistently that the vast majority of them only care about whether a D or R is next to a candidate's name and everything else is negotiable. I'm sure we'll get a few "Throw the bums out" posts, but that's not going to happen. Most of the state governments in the southeastern USA have sizable Republican majorities. I've seen corrupt practices out of the Democrats too when they had strangleholds on states with huge majorities in the state legislature. It's what happens when one party gets entrenched and there's no hope of getting them out.
    • I was thinking of this in the wake of the K04 election last night. There is a lot of places where it seems no matter how bad Republicans govern, they will not be punished by voters. The incentive for corruption and poor management is extremely high. The reverse does not seem to be true in many "liberal" places, like New York City, NJ, or Massachusetts where there is a strong preference for Democrats but where Republicans can still win if the Dems fuck up enough.
    • That is one of the big advantages of "top two" primaries - if your state is securely "locked in" to one party, then the primary will reflect that, and you'll end up with a choice between two members of that party for office. Then it won't be party loyalty that decides which candidate wins, and corrupt established politicians will face genuine competition for their seat.

      Plus it gives an advantage to moderates who are able to reach across the aisle and appeal to opposing party voters as well, so "losing par

    • Primitive Voting promotes 2 party rule. The single biggest fix one can make is to put in a modern voting system which allows more than 2 parties to get access to power (and by modern I do not mean electronic!) Divide up the duopoly control over the system.

      That is just 1 big thing; there are so many other problems wrong in the system (and the citizens) no single thing will fix it. The American Empire is falling after such a short run; I never read about one that turned it around.

    • This is what happens when you let one party have a complete stranglehold on state government. The number of Republicans in the state senate are almost 6 to 1 in favor of Republicans. It's almost 3-1 in favor of Republicans in the state house. The governor in Republican and there's no accountability. Voters have shown consistently that the vast majority of them only care about whether a D or R is next to a candidate's name and everything else is negotiable. I'm sure we'll get a few "Throw the bums out" posts, but that's not going to happen. Most of the state governments in the southeastern USA have sizable Republican majorities. I've seen corrupt practices out of the Democrats too when they had strangleholds on states with huge majorities in the state legislature. It's what happens when one party gets entrenched and there's no hope of getting them out.

      Unfortunately, that doesn't apply here. When we were fighting the SuperDMCA bill so many years ago, the cable lobby had Curtis Person (R) as the senator (his son headed the cable lobby here in TN, by the way) and Rob Briley (D) as their house boy. Basically, they own both parties and it's really difficult to get decent legislation passed that affects them.

    • by houghi ( 78078 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @10:53AM (#54221735)

      It is a one party government, even if there are two parties named. The issue is the 'winner takes all'. So it does not matter if they have 90% or 51%

      With a multi party system where it is not winner-takes-all you need to do real politics. That means negotiating and making deals. That will lead in general to what most people want, not want the mere majority wants.

      Instead of black-white, you will see a LOT of grey. And in the end that will serve more people.

  • doubts (Score:4, Insightful)

    by argStyopa ( 232550 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:20AM (#54221103) Journal

    I know the intent of the article is to make people enraged, and it certainly seems like something's going wrong here.

    However, I have serious, fundamental reservations about government competing with the free market.

    While certainly there are some circumstances, and this may well be one, where government can beneficially 'manage the commons' better than private or for-profit interests, there's something troubling about government agencies, on taxpayer funds, driving private firms out of business.

    Yes, I see from the article that EPB runs a profit, and doesn't take tax money for operation. But do they bear the long-term capital costs that a private firm would for infrastructure? They certainly get use of city right-of-ways, no? In disputes over land use or zoning, I have to imagine they get a far more sympathetic hearing from city agencies?

    In any case, it should be in the interest of any citizen to doubt the wisdom of establishing and protecting anti-competitive markets in the long run, not to mention the idea of a business having (essentially) the power of law enforcement on their side.

    http://reason.com/archives/201... [reason.com]

    • by sjbe ( 173966 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:31AM (#54221163)

      However, I have serious, fundamental reservations about government competing with the free market.

      That might be a valid concern if provision of wireline data was actually a free market. It is not and never has been and there is no reasonable prospect of it becoming one in the near future either. Companies like AT&T and Comcast have a government granted monopoly because of the substantial capital costs involved in setting up and maintaining such a network. As such they need to be regulated to assure against abuses. Given that fact it is perfectly reasonable for the government to get into the market with alternative offerings if the private corporations are not providing sufficient value to the citizens.

      • by jittles ( 1613415 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @10:28AM (#54221549)

        It is not and never has been and there is no reasonable prospect of it becoming one in the near future either.

        That's not exactly true. Just look for pictures of NYC at the turn of the century and you can see neighborhoods with hundreds of power and telephone lines from competing companies going through neighborhoods. It's an eyesore and incredibly dangerous. This is why it will never be that way again and why there should be no corporate interests invested in owning utility lines.

        • Just look for pictures of NYC at the turn of the century and you can see neighborhoods with hundreds of power and telephone lines from competing companies going through neighborhoods.

          You kind of missed the point but I'll revise. There hasn't been any meaningful version of a free market in power line or wire line telecom or cable TV networks within the lifetime of anyone who will read this.

          This is why it will never be that way again and why there should be no corporate interests invested in owning utility lines.

          I don't see a problem with a (regulated) private company owning utility lines as long as they don't also own what is being transmitted over those same lines.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

      there's something troubling about government agencies, on taxpayer funds, driving private firms out of business.

      What private firms have been driven out of business here? The ones that have been given $45M of taxpayer money? I don't see anything in the article about companies going out of business. Sorry if i missed it.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Rockoon ( 1252108 )

        What private firms have been driven out of business here? The ones that have been given $45M of taxpayer money?

        Its all the ones that didn't get taxpayer money.

        But you wont discuss this subject in any way that resembles an honest consideration of the situation.... because you have an agenda to push.

    • Its sad that yours is the only post I've seen thus far that even begins to doubt the validity of the article. If I had mod points, I'd give them, but since I don't, just know that you are certainly not the only one here who views inflammatory nonsense like this with skepticism.
      • by saider ( 177166 )

        I think the difference here is that this is a government owned company, rather than the government itself. For infrastructure needs, I think this makes more sense than a government granted monopoly since the company officers are accountable to the owners, which is the government and people they serve, instead of some distant faceless shareholders.

        Personally I think most utilities should be Co-ops where the owners are the people being provided service. The only place where I see free markets working for util

    • by swb ( 14022 )

      I thought the summary was a little bit hyped, but in my opinion municipal data networks aren't inherently anti-competitive and actually encourage competition.

      Let some free-standing but government-owned corporation run the municipal network at layer 2 and lower. Mandate they run at only enough profit level to cover their operating costs and future investment/expansion. They provide nothing more than link layer connectivity and operate a CO data center open to all comers -- schools, businesses, for-profit c

  • In other news, Chattanooga has discovered a way to expand infrastructure without paying for any labor or buying any materials.

    • yeah I was wondering: if Verizon and Comcast can build it, can the government then lease it after getting right to expand? Hell, since they paid for it, can they lease it for free?

  • please tell us why you tolerate this corrupt behavior by your legislators? $45 million isn't pocket change. Are you really going to ignore this the next time your representatives run for re-election?
    • Sure, it was a misleading, clickbait headline. But maybe you should at least read the summary.
    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )

      Are you really going to ignore this the next time your representatives run for re-election?

      And the answer will be: ignore what?

    • nothing corrupt about it, that is vote to use money to help city infrastructure, where most the taxpayers/citizens live.

      $45M for all the rural areas in the state is far too little to do anything useful anyway, cities already have foundation in place for networking

  • by Gilgaron ( 575091 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @09:39AM (#54221205)
    Through means which don't make sense prima facie, I can switch electric and natural gas providers at will while the utility company continues to provide the connectivity. Why can't we 'nationalize' the fiber but let service providers compete on the service?
    • by elrous0 ( 869638 )

      Because bribes.

    • Probably no fancy means involved - after all it doesn't matter to you or the providers if you're using gas or electricity that actually came from them, so it can all be done in the utility company's bookkeeping. For every unit of energy that you buy "from Provider A", the utility delivers one unit of energy to you, while buying a unit of energy from Provider A. Ditto for the other providers. Where the specific unit of power delivered came from is irrelevant.

      I think it's a wonderful way of doing things, and

    • I've been arguing for years that if telecommunications companies take public money for expanding infrastructure, they need to be designated as common carriers.

      in the 1990s, back when it was Bell Atlantic (before Bell Atlantic-NYNEX, before Verizon) got public money to build out infrastructure in the general I-95 corridor. They then didn't do it for YEARS.

      We need to go back to the old ISP days -- line (physical connection) was separate from port (data to the internet), and the ILECs (incumbent local exchang

      • I've been arguing for years that if telecommunications companies take public money for expanding infrastructure, they need to be designated as common carriers.

        First you force them at gunpoint to get in bed with the government, then you say "now that you're in bed with me...".

        We need to go back to the old ISP days

        You mean 9600 baud dial-up, with semi-illegal third party modems or leased lines that cost more than the apartment they go to? I absolutely don't need that, thank you very much.

    • If all you want is equal access to the wires, there is no need to "nationalize the fiber", you can just separate the hardware provider from the service provider.

      However, an even better solution is for cities to just put in conduits instead of digging up the road for every cable.

    • by green1 ( 322787 )

      What advantage do you get from the extra layer of administration over your gas and electricity providers? There's only one set of wires/pipes. so "deregulation" is a farce. They've convinced you to pay twice for the same service, once to the company actually providing it (the one who actually reads your meter, fixes the pipes or wires, etc) and another one who does nothing but add a layer of extra administration for no benefit.

      You can't solve a natural monopoly by adding a competitive layer on top of it, th

      • I'm not sure that I do get much advantage in those cases, it's just the 'way things are'. But if it works for things it is stupid to use it on, like gas and electricity, surely internet connectivity would be even easier.
        • by green1 ( 322787 )

          So you now pay "x" for internet, your proposal is to continue to pay "x" but have "x" regulated by the government at that price, and then add a surcharge "y" from a different company that provides no service other than administration.

          I'm not sure how this is supposed to improve anything. If anything, it causes the company actually providing the service to stop caring about it's quality, after all, you're stuck with them, no matter who you move to for your billing (arguably no different than now, but at leas

    • by sims 2 ( 994794 )

      How? Out here in oklahoma at home I have one choice for electric and water. In town you have one choice for electric, water and gas. That is if you live in an area of the city that the city allowed to have natural gas lines run.

      I've heard the city is pretty picky about the permitting anymore something about the natural gas competing with their electric for heating in the winter.

      But how would that work I don't really have anything here I could compare it to?

      • It is some accounting thing... the utility company still does the billing, but by changing suppliers I can get different/better rates for the consumable part of things. I'm not sure how to calculate if it saves me any money over before they deregulated, but I suppose it has 'created jobs' in the door-to-door energy supplier salesmen market. You can even get a 'renewable only' provider, but it ends up costing more. In practice it is like calling the cable company every so often to get the better rate, and
  • I know it's hardly a new complaint, but Slashdot's recent trend towards not merely provocative but 100%-contrary-to-the-facts-of-the-matter headlines is really getting ridiculous.

    Yes, the city/state government could have spent a bunch of money to "give the fastest internet for free" to the people inside the urban bounds of Chattanooga. OR, they could use that money to make it worth the providers' time to extend that lovely fast service out in to the surrounding areas that have no access at all. Which is
  • by cloud.pt ( 3412475 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @10:39AM (#54221623)

    In the 2000's, Portugal's ANACOM (kind of our very own FCC, but much more "lobby-able") allowed the subsidization of copper, cable and fiber installation to unserviced areas exclusively to Portugal Telecom (PT, now commercially known as MEO), then a mostly public company with a big monopoly on phone and internet services but none in cable or satellite TV, with the state itself covering up to the 90 %'s of the cost but ownership being kept by PT. All PT had to do was compromise on maintenance and also service the rural areas where they already had a presence, thus providing close to 100% home owners with basic cable DSL. It was very good - for the 2000's, many villages ended up with 256kb internet services with copper, although they were more expensive than in cities.

    Problem: rural lines were never maintained or upgraded. By 2010, internet users in rural areas had ascended to more than 80% due to population renewal - most schools, services and even income tax forms or civil services are now internet-based and people need a solid bandwidth for accessing these services, and these services are not made for 2000'ish bandwidth. Our income tax website for instance is a 50MB Java Applet that constantly fails and requires refresh, does bad caching. Moodle and other educational web platforms, even email, demand decent down and upload speeds for word, pdf or other assignments. In technological terms, we have the xDSL protocol but not even close to the throughput to support it effectively. I've seen multiple cases of people subscribing to 24mbit services, effectively getting 2mbits tops, and the instability at that speed prompts most people to even request a reduction to 1.2mbits to PT so they get a stable service.

    Bigger problem: PT/MEO was sold by our previous right-wing government under pretext that it was a demand for targeted Troika goals for having received a bail-out, and a known company dismantler Altice, spearheaded by Luso-French CEO, took the majority share (and abolished the state-owned golden share) of PT, while managing to include a monopolizing contract clause specifically for rural areas, where the installed lines were mostly payed for by the state, but are still fully owned by the company. And they pretty much payed below asking price. Better offers were denied from more decent parties for reasons that were never actually disclosed. PT is now a super-aggressive marketing company, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and our best comedians stepping in their commercials. The service, obviously, hasn't improved sh*t the last 5 years.

    So now, in Portugal we have at least 4 fiber providers, 2 of them expanding their own line strongly to rural areas not serviced by PT, but they are constantly blocked from providing service because they can't use the tubing that is now owned by PT (part of the lines deal), and new licenses for cabling will not be issued because of the monopolizing clause. They can't even demand the lease of existing lines or tubing in some instances. That's how strong ANACOM is defending PT.

    For this reason, Portugal is now becoming a home-3g/LTE playground with actual decent speeds. I am seeing more and more people switching to home-LTE plans because they are much cheaper and immensely more modern and reliable. They are provided by all ISPs unlike landlines because PT does not have a monopoly there, and so prices and plans are a lot more competitive. And yes, I said mobile services in Portugal rural areas are more reliable than landline. That's how bad it gets.

    Now, why do I have to live in a country where rural areas get the same treatment as 3rd-world countries, who pretty much skipped landlines for cost, and are jumping to mobile data instead. It is appalling.

    • TL:DR Portugal's government pretty much payed installation of high-speed internet infrastructure, in the 2000's, to then state-owned company PT. Now that company is no longer state-owned, and they got to keep the taxpayer-payed infrastructure, and a monopoly clause for rural, non-competitive areas. Service by PT hasn't improved much the last 10y in rural areas, and companies intending to service those areas (which stopped being non-competitive long ago), are being blocked from it by the monopoly that our FC

  • by fallen1 ( 230220 ) on Wednesday April 12, 2017 @11:18AM (#54221911) Homepage

    ..that has actually been brought up before on Slashdot, but it bears bringing up again.

    Why not let each county/city build out a fiber optic network that will serve its citizens, connect to each county that touches them in a peering agreement, then connect to the overall backbone that is the Internet? Once those fiber networks are built out, the county/city can then let any ISP that wants to connect to the fiber and sell services -- with the county/city collecting $XX.xx per connection for upgrades and maintenance. THAT would create competition. Even if the local county/city creates their own ISP, then that service provider/entity must be separate from the entity owning the fiber optics and still has to pay $XX.xx per connection for access to the physical fiber. Fair play and all that.

    The county/city entity that owns the fiber should have a completely "hands off" policy (net neutrality) when it comes to data flowing over the fiber and their only concern is the physical upkeep and maintenance.

  • Someone needs to explain to me why taxpayer dollars freely go to public transportation systems - highways and airports - while taxpayer dollars for internet services go to private corporations whose only perceived purpose is legalized monopolization.

    The cable TV and telecommunication corporations' ultimate goal isn't just eliminating competition, their ultimate goal is absolute ownership of the wires/fiber networks that deliver internet services. That is the key to shutting out or hampering competition.
  • How do you expect the telcos to supply broadband to even one rural house with that? That won't even cover the interior decorating cost of a yacht these days.

  • I didn't know Tennessee had the Internet yet.
  • What, give internet away for FREE, and in the Deep South? Why that is SOCIALIST and will make the Soviets invade us!

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