Cable lobby blocking competition from broadband subsidies in federal farm bill

by Steve Blum • , , ,

Don’t you dare overbuild modern telecoms systems.

Federal broadband subsidies for rural areas are up for a vote in the U.S. Senate on Thursday, and cable lobbyists are pressing hard for restrictions on construction funding. Broadband is but one tiny piece of a huge, five year farm program that costs nearly a trillion dollars and includes everything from crop insurance to food stamps.

The bill has been stalled in the senate for some time. Given the rules there, it needs 60 out of 100 votes to move forward. Negotiations will continue up to the last minute, which will likely come on Monday when senators are due to take a second and final vote on it.

Several broadband programs have been lumped into the bill, but not all are likely to survive the horse trading that democrats have been doing to secure at least a handful of republican senators and, they hope, make it palatable to the republican controlled House of Representatives. Josh Evans, in a story on the Broadband Breakfast blog, does a great job of summarising the menu of potential broadband goodies on the table, which include construction subsidies, new access rules and better information collection.

And a cable industry sponsored grenade that would make it harder to subsidise broadband projects in areas where there’s some level of broadband access – mobile service, maybe? – but where it doesn’t meet whatever federal benchmarks are in effect. One person’s overbuild is another’s attempt to prevent parsimonious incumbents from sentencing rural communities to life in the Internet’s slow lanes. So far though, in Washington and Sacramento, cable lobbyists have been successful in pushing the overbuild meme (along with fist loads of campaign cash) on legislators.