Broadband mapping: carriers can’t be trusted – but don’t hold it against them
NTIA administrator Larry Strickling (again…) is wrong: carriers shouldn’t be trusted – certainly not to share broadband data. That’s because you shouldn’t rely on carriers to agree to serve the public interest. Not that they are inherently bad corporate citizens; but because carriers’ interests and the public’s interest are not aligned. And never will be. Consequently, carriers are never going to take steps that would entail favoring the public’s interest over theirs. It’s just plain logic; economic logic – unencumbered by the hardcore free-market ideology that telecom lobbyists always talk about.Let’s look at the facts. To put it simply, free markets don’t quite work in the broadband world.
Everywhere you look, you find a juxtaposition of local oligopolies: a limited number of firms serving a sub-regional market. Where are there more than three telcos competing in the same county? We’re certainly not saying that telcos are plotting to rip off consumers – we’re simply noticing that they have no real incentive to be very aggressive commercially.
That’s why we believe one shouldn’t trust carriers too much. But that’s all right: because carriers are working for their shareholders. Whereas public authorities looking to foster broadband deployment and adoption are working on behalf of their constituencies. The truth is that broadband is a public responsibility, not something that should be entrusted solely to the private sector. Within that context elected officials and the government can actually have a say.
Here is a little background story. Back in the early 2000s the French incumbent, France Telecom, spent three years fighting a law meant to enable public bodies (“départements” and “regions”) to start building broadband infrastructure – and in 2004, it lost. Then, when it became clear that public networks would start sprouting out all over the country, France telecom decided to work with small, alternative, local telcos and public-private partnerships planning and running public networks. If you can’t beat them, join them. Today, five years later, 96% of the French population enjoys broadband (and there they mean over 3 Mb) access for less than 30€ ($42 dollars) a month. They can’t be trusted – but in the end carriers cooperate when they’re pushed!
At SNG, we think it is important that public officials understand this context, so that elected decision-makers can decide to allocate the required resources to do their own broadband mapping – without relying on the goodwill of carriers to share their broadband data. Because, as Art Brodsky writes today: “At the end of the day, somebody is going to be in control of the mapping. It will either be the public, and the public interest, as represented by NTIA, or the industry.”