How the Federal Government Screwed Up Broadband Internet

Did you ever wonder why your American internet connection sucks? You can thank the federal government. Today most of us only know that the Federal Communications Commission regulates the airwaves as a public property. But it wasn't always that way. At one point telecommunications were regulated on a much more efficient basis. But then big business and their partner in crime, the federal government, decided that things had to be done differently, ostensibly for the benefit of all. And now, American telecommunications is screwed up beyond belief. This is why countries like South Korea kick our butt in broadband speeds.

Two years ago, the US had already dropped to 16th among the nations of the world in internet access speed. Why is this so? Because these so-called socialist nations are much less socialist than we are--in many ways, including--in telecommunications.
These nations all have something the U.S. lacks: a national broadband policy, one that actively encourages competition among providers, leading to lower consumer prices and better service.

Instead, the U.S. has a handful of unelected and unaccountable corporate giants that control our vital telecommunications infrastructure. This has led not only to a digital divide between the U.S. and the rest of the advanced world but to one inside the U.S. itself. Currently, broadband services in America remain unavailable for many living in rural and poorer urban areas, and remain slow and expensive for those who do have access.
In 1926, it was clear to the federal government that it had no authority to regulate the communications spectrum.
In April, 1926 — United States v. Zenith Radio Corp. — the court again denied Hoover the authority to regulate licensure and this time—contrary to Intercity—they explicitly denied him discretion over time and wavelength assignment as well. Because the Intercity and Zenith decisions conflicted, Hoover turned to the acting Attorney General of the United States for an interpretation of the law. The Attorney General declared that the federal government had no authority to define any rights to spectrum.

The federal government has no authority to regulate the communications spectrum.

But...fear of fears! How would it be regulated? People would be stomping all over each other if the federal government didn't control things, right? Wrong. The problem was already under control by state courts just fine, thank you.
the classic interference problem was encountered, litigated, and overcome, using no more than existing common-law precedent.
If you drive down the freeway some evening with your AM radio station on, you will notice that the Federal Government does a crappy job of regulating the AM radio waves. But that's "okay". We've become accustomed to the reality that the federal government can fail at anything it wants and not be held accountable for it.

Where did the federal government get the idea, shortly after 1926, that is was somehow authorized to regulate the airwaves? By big business, who stood to gain, and has enjoyed in the interim 80 years, huge advantages over the small guy trying to get into the market. Is it surprising to you then, that huckmeisters like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are making it big with their radio putresence, while the little guy languishes? All the better to fool you with, my dear.

Private entities, such as the IEEE and Underwriters Laboratories can provide the same allocation function as does the FCC, and they can do it much better. If they were to become whores for their big business friends, something could much more easily be done to remedy the situation.

Currently, due to FCC ineptitude, vast swaths of the communications spectrum is left unused. Private companies have the technology and ability to apportion out these unused frequencies, leaving easily enough for public safety frequencies.

FCC policies virtually ensure that disputes are decided in favor of the communications giants, leaving the opposite point of view largely out in the cold.

The FCC, like the Federal Department of Education, should be abolished. It has solved no problems that were not already being solved. It has, rather, made political obeisance to its friends in big business, causing a monolithic use of America airwaves that would make Joe Stalin proud. Even if it did its job correctly, it would be less efficient than the private sector could provide the same service, and it would still be unconstitutional.

Bill Moyers' Journal on PBS has this web exclusive that talks about the December 18, 2007 decision by the Federal Communications Commission to allow newspapers to buy radio and television stations in the city that the papers are published. The FCC is a sham.

You should jump on your archaically slow internet connection and tell your congressman about it.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Nice to see someone else writing about issues of broadband and Net Neutrality in Utah.

    You're a bit off though with the "socialism" comment. A more socialist attitude toward broadband would actually increase the broadband saturation. I'm not recommending it, just clarifying that. Our "leadership" since the late 1990's has defended corporations who are also (see Chris Cannon) donating a large amount of money to campaigns to keep a tight grip on their market, effectively dispelling competition before it even has a chance to germinate.

    If you take a close look at governments with the highest level of cheap, available broadband (Denmark, most of Europe), their policies have been a mix of heavy government regulation of ownership/saturation, as well as heavy government funding and involvement in broadband accessibility. Additionally, if US broadband access were equal (per capita) to Denmark's, it would effectively create 3.7 million additional jobs.

    The Bush administration and Republicans in the House, for the past 6 years, have relaxed the floodgates against competition and stacked the FCC deck against Net Neutrality and ownership guidelines that would breed competition from smaller providers. It is most recently evidenced in the three most recent votes from the FCC on media regulation, where the decision fell for/against along strict party lines, with Democrat appointees voting for more regulation, funding, and the Republican majority that exists on most FCC committees voting to prop up corporations, cross-ownership, and telecommunication/cable interests above the interests of innovation and competition. For what we pay for a basic connection here in the US, you could buy a 10x faster connection in France, and a 30x faster connection in Japan. The US has also failed to properly collect data concerning broadband usage/benefits like many other countries (again, an initiative blocked by congressional Republicans on the payroll of large providers) have, so not only the FCC, but all house technology committees are making regulatory decisions with data not updated since the Republicans gained a house majority under Clinton (an admission the FCC made during testimony before the senate small business committees in Sept). The GAO had urged the FCC to update it's data in 2006, but no action was taken.

    The problem isn't government involvement in regulation, but rather bad policy pushed by legislators who have chosen padding their campaign coffers to protecting the public interest. Issues of broadband availability and net neutrality have so far met with opposition only from Republicans and more conservative Democrats. Progressive Democrats have alternatively made these same issue a large part of their campaigns on both house races, and in at least a few of the presidential campaigns (Obama and Edwards both have a great "technology plan").

    The core of the net neutrality debate is similar to designation of "common carrier" attributed to boats, trains, etc, which ensures equal access to anyone who can afford to use it, and also protects providers from legal ramifications for how a user chooses to do so (i.e. you cannot sue Amtrak if you get on a train drunk and end up in Mexico, and in return Amtrak must help to develop railways -- ironically this designation was recently used by Comcast as legal defense, while they have not promoted availability, on the level Amtrak was required to in order to receive the designation). The core of opponents argue that these large corporations have a right to protect their "product."

    In the end, it comes down to that same age old battle between more, or less regulation. But if your concern is broadband availability, and price, lets lay the blame where it is deserved. Socialism hasn't held its development back, but rather corporate greed, legislative short-sightedness, and the sheer volumes of money these corporations have to pad the pockets of legislators. Regulation is, if anything, needed, rather than too extensive.

    Read more about it @

  3. Jason,

    I appreciate this detail you provide, especially on what what has recently happened while the Bush administration has been at the helm.

    My point in crying "socialism" is that government is controlling who has access to deliver services in the US much more than in other countries. In other countries, there is a great deal of regulation, but the regulation is to make it much more fair and encourage much more competition than in the United States.

    Otherwise, I completely agree with you. I found the following thought of yours very insightful
    The problem isn't government involvement in regulation, but rather bad policy pushed by legislators who have chosen padding their campaign coffers to protecting the public interest.

    I agree. Government is all about making fair laws that allow everyone to participate. The United States, as regards telecommunications, fell off that track long ago, and the Bush administration is making it worse.

  4. Al Gore invented the internet. If he had not been screwed by W's brother Jeb in Florida we would not be having GW or internet problems presently. We would not be mired down in sectarian violence in Iraq either.

  5. I'm not sure Jeb shafted Al, but otherwise I completely agree


  6. You're right: the feds have done nothing but totally screw up the entire telecommunications market. In 1913 (thanks to intensive lobbying), the federal government declared AT&T to be a legal monopoly. They then bungled the 1984 breakup by making a bunch of smaller monopolies instead of mandating that the wholesale and retail aspects of telecommunications be separate entities with no discrimination between retailers.

    The crowning achievement of government ineptitude was the Telecommunications Act of 1996. Telcos promised all sorts of great things (increased competition, decreased pricing, 45Mbps service to all households, etc.) in exchange for a host of new government-mandated fees. As part of that, they got the feds to agree to let states govern the provisions of the act while not giving states the resources to do so. The result? Telcos completely dropped their end of the bargain and got to "liberate" a cool $200B from our pockets in the form of increased fees and tax breaks. Even after redefining broadband from 45Mbps to a paltry 200Kbps, the FCC still had to create a new "high-speed" moniker since telcos couldn't even get that far.

    Systems like iProvo and UTOPIA, for all their faults, are the best thing next to a true break-up for getting those broken promises fulfilled. Is it expensive? Heck yes. But there's no chance in Hades we'll get our money back from Qwest, Verizon, AT&T, etc.

  7. Jesse,

    I'm beginning to see where you're coming from as regards our previous disagreements on the iProvo thing. It's making more sense to me now.

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