Susan Crawford says the US must do more in communications infrastructure
Susan Crawford, the Harvard law professor and proponent of public telecoms investment, has used her latest column in Wired to attack privatisation of public assets. But she says the federal government doesn’t set high enough standards for the quality and price of the services the public subsidises – “And we’re certainly no good at requiring competition… We’ll take anything that seems to fill the gaps left by the private market. In particular, we’ll throw poorer and rural people under the bus, relegating them to subpar services.” Crawford notes that the Federal Communications Commission will launch a reverse auction that allows companies to apply to bid for $2 billion in subsidies for providing internet access in unserved parts of America. “But the companies can win these subsidies with promises of subpar service – just 10 Mbps downloads, the minimum speeds considered adequate.”
She also says the FCC Is planning to end the Lifeline programme, which subsidises communications subscriptions for low-income families. “America, alone among developed nations, never thought of basic telecoms services as a public service, to be built and controlled by the government… Now, following an astounding wave of consolidation and deregulation, we have the worst of both worlds: mostly unregulated private monopolists, selling expensive, mostly second-class data services to the rich and looking to the state to pay them to provide internet access services to everyone else.” Crawford adds: “Our national policy, enshrined in the statute codifying the FCC’s powers, is to ‘make available, so far as possible, to all the people of the United States’ a nationwide communications service ‘with adequate facilities at reasonable charges’. As a country, we could be doing so much more, so much more sensibly, to invest in data infrastructure – and particularly in facilitating the deployment of competitive fibre-optic lines that will in turn enable competitive wireless services. By thinking through our industrial policy about communications infrastructure, we would be investing in every child’s opportunity to live a decent, globally competitive life. Instead, we seem determined to invest in the dominant carriers’ bottom lines, at great long-term cost to ourselves.”
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- Thursday, 22 March 2018