Donald Trump’s Federal Communications Commission, headed by former Verizon lawyer Ajit Pai, has done it again. This time, instead of ripping away consumer protections, Pai is continuing the telecom policy of doing away with competition, while stealing money out of the country’s municipal coffers. The next frontier that telecoms want to conquer, as cover for their lack of upgraded broadband networks and the profound inadequacies of our unregulated telecom markets, is 5G service. The pipe dream is that with 5G service, the United States’ lagging broadband speeds—the result of Big Telecom’s broken promises—will be compensated for by wireless high-speed service. But, as with everything, before this can happen, there needs to be an infrastructure in place. In the case of 5G service, telecom giants like Verizon will need to basically attach small radios to existing structures such as telephone poles to transmit signals. Ajit Pai and his Republican majority voted on Wednesday to limit what local municipalities could charge telecoms for the permits that would be needed to do that. According to the three Republicans on the FCC panel that voted for this new plan, it will save telecom companies around $2 billion that they would have had to give to localities, but instead can be spent on building networks.
Nothing in the FCC’s vote stipulates that telecoms must use the saved revenue for infrastructure-building. That means that it will not go towards infrastructure-building. Companies like Verizon have received billions and billions of dollars over the past couple of decades and have not come close to building out their broadband networks. In fact, they’ve been sued across the country for reneging on their corporate welfare promises, keeping the money, and then taking credit for later finally doing some of the work they were supposed to have completed years before. Jessica Rosenworcel, the sole Democrat left on the FCC (after Mignon Clyburn left in April), had this to say:
“Instead of working with our state and local partners to speed the way to 5G deployment, we cut them out. … We tell them that going forward Washington will make choices for them — about which fees are permissible and which are not, about what aesthetic choices are viable and which are not, with complete disregard for the fact that these infrastructure decisions do not work the same in New York, New York, and New York, Iowa.”
In classic hypocritical Republican fashion, this decision is the exact federal overreach that conservatives claim to loathe. And rural America will continue to get the shaft from the political party that pretends to care about them the most.
“Comb through the text of this decision—you will not find a single commitment made to providing more service in remote communities,” FCC Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel, the FCC’s only Democrat, said before today’s vote. “Look for any statements made to Wall Street—not one wireless carrier has said that this action will result in a change in its capital expenditures in rural areas.”
Verizon and other telecoms will be building out their 5G services in major cities. They will claim that they are spending that $2 billion gift from Ajit Pai, but they would be building the infrastructure regardless of the permit costs, because they have to in order to offer the services and create the revenue streams they are after. Pai says that the new plan will free up telecoms from the bureaucratic quagmire holding them back—a claim he did not, and cannot, back up with any evidence.
When they get to rural areas that they still haven’t built out, they’ll ask for more tax breaks, more monopolistic power, some guarantee that they will just get money while providing next to nothing for it. That’s the mythological “spending money to make money” capitalist motto. Of course, that’s not how it works for these big companies, who prefer to run their industry like a semi-socialist oligarchy. That’s because building out rural areas isn’t profitable, unless the government subsidizes it. Giving telecoms $2 billion with no strings attached is the equivalent of giving telecoms TWO BILLION DOLLARS WITH NO STRINGS ATTACHED.
We the people invest in telecoms’ business, and they receive all of the profits.
This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.