Telecoms Robbing Us With Government Help — Again

Once again, a telecommunications corporation — this time Verizon — is emptying its customers’ pockets, with government help. Must be a day that ends in “y.” In the past, New Jersey heavily subsidized the construction of DSL lines, in the form of excess customer rates, on the condition that they would continue to provide DSL service on the lines built at taxpayer expense. But according to Karl Bode at Techdirt (“Verizon Thinks It’s a Good Idea to Mock New Jersey Taxpayers After Ripping Them Off for Years,” Aug. 12), the state recently exempted Verizon from this obligation. So instead Verizon is forcing DSL customers into much more expensive wireless plans with low usage caps and high overage penalties. And to top it all off, Verizon is making fun of the customers who object to this shabby treatment.

Verizon compares customers who want to keep their existing unlimited data DSL service, rather than being forced (excuse me, “upgraded”) into a crappy wireless plan, to Luddites. Verizon New Jersey spokesman Lee Gierczynski attributed their resistance to “misplaced fear” and “misunderstanding” — someday “people are going to look back and laugh at people … just like who were a part of the Anti-Digit Dialing League.” It’s much likelier that, rather than being the ignoramuses Gierczynski makes them out to be, customers are all too well informed about what it’s like living with an overpriced, snail-paced wireless plan.

Basically Gierczynski is representing a company that collected billions in excess rates in return for promises it reneged on — and making fun of the people who object to being robbed.

This is nothing new, of course. During the ’90s all the major players in the telecommunications industry collected hundreds of billions of dollars in marked up rates in municipalities around the country, based on their promise to build large-scale fiber-optic infrastructures and offer cheap broadband in those communities — and then pocketed the money and forgot about their promises.

They’re able to get away with this blatant fraud and theft because their lobbyists have uncontested sway in the state legislatures. And as if that weren’t enough, they use their political influence over government policy — much of it through their large donations to the so-called “free market think tank” ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) — to secure state legislation prohibiting local municipal wireless services.

One such system that managed to bypass telecom interference is the Gig in Chattanooga, which offers one gigabit per second — about fifty times the US average — for $70 a month. It’s piggybacked on the excess capacity of a high-quality fiber optic infrastructure originally built to support the local electric utility’s smart grid. Of course the telecommunications industry is livid. In roughly twenty states, thanks to telecom lobbying, it’s illegal for municipalities to use pre-existing fiber optic infrastructure created for utilities, public school systems and the like to offer competing wireless service.

Freed markets and unfettered competition are highly destructive to the power of large corporations. But generally the giant corporations that talk the most about “free markets” and “deregulation” got their market power with plenty of subsidies and protections from the government. Their idea of “freedom” is to abuse that power without restriction. The way it usually works is, government gives business a big gun to rob the public, and then adds some qualification like “…but don’t use hollow points.” The corporations’ pet “free market” think tanks, heavily funded with Koch money, scream “How DARE government interfere with business’s freedom to decide what kind of ammo to use!!??”

The corporate idea — and corporate-funded “libertarian” think tank-funded idea — of “free markets” and “deregulation” is to leave in place all the forms of corporate power enforced by government, but to remove all restrictions on the abuse of that power. A real libertarian agenda is to remove the state-enforced power of big business in the first place.

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