Why Big Telecom Keeps Fighting Affordable Internet

Is it really just about the money?

Key Takeaways

  • New York’s Affordable Broadband Act has been put on hold for the time being.
  • Many consumers continue to feel that big telecom doesn’t want to give them affordable and reliable access to the internet.
  • Some experts say the issue isn’t so clear cut, while others suggest big telecom’s perceived focus on money is holding back America’s internet.
Wi-Fi router with a sticker with the words "no connection" written on it

Yevhenii Orlov / Getty Images

With big telecom companies lobbying hard against affordable broadband bills, experts say it’s easy to think they hate the idea of affordable internet. In reality, the matter is much more complex.

Earlier this year, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo made headlines when he announced a bill that would force internet service providers (ISPs) to sell internet service to New Yorkers in certain areas for $15 a month. Following the announcement, ISPs hit back hard, lobbying against the bill and even filing a lawsuit because of it. Now, a judge has put the bill on hiatus, citing the possibility of "irreparable harm" to telecom companies if it were to go into action. This decision, along with the lawsuit, has led many to feel like ISPs don't want people to have affordable internet, but experts say the issue isn’t quite that simple.

"I don’t think it is that they don’t want people to have accessible, affordable internet," Rebecca Watts, an advocate for internet access who works with the Western Governors University, told Lifewire on a call. "I think the opposition here is because the legislation doesn’t necessarily take into account their business model, and this injunction will allow everyone to take some time and really learn from the providers exactly what the impact could be."

Perspective

While the governor’s intent with the bill is important—and one that Watts wholly stands for—she says things have been moving very quickly as the government works to address the digital divide plaguing our country. It’s important to take a moment and ensure the policies put in place won’t create other issues in the future.

"There will be some potentially unintended consequences," Watts explained. "It happens all the time with legislation. So the way I'm interpreting the judge's action is to take a pause and make sure that we're evaluating all of the unintended consequences here."

"I think the opposition here is because the legislation doesn’t necessarily take into account their business model."

Whether or not the ISPs’ intent is to stop the bill completely or just ensure it doesn’t destroy them is unclear, especially given the long history of how ISPs have treated customers in the past. Internet prices are still extremely high, especially when compared to areas outside of America, and with so many people still struggling to get stable internet, it’s easy to feel like big telecom just doesn’t want to give it to you. 

Like Dominoes Falling

It’s also important to note that, while New York’s bill could open the door for struggling families to get internet access, there also have been concerns that it would lead to price increases for other customers, as ISPs try to recoup the money they’d spend to expand to those neighborhoods.

Additionally, there are also concerns that successful passing of the bill could lead to similar legislation in other states. It could lead to the providers becoming overwhelmed and unable to deliver the access that is being demanded. 

hand stopping wooden blocks from falling over

krisanapong detraphiphat / Getty Images

This is, of course, an issue that long has stood at the forefront of the battle to close the digital divide, especially when you take into account how the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has overseen the expansion of the internet over the past 20 years. If we were to see multiple pieces of legislation like this popping up across the country, it could overwhelm the system and lead to even more problems.

Playing the Wrong Game

However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that, yes, many ISPs are very much focused on the money and their businesses, and sometimes it can feel like they’re taking advantage of the country’s need to connect.

"Humanity is arriving quickly to the point of needing Telecom services like we need water & food to survive," Dan Kelly, a telecom industry veteran, explained in an email. "Telecom companies realize how much we depend on our interconnectivity, and they exploit it to their full advantage. They'll deliver sub-par services because they know you can't go without it."

"Whether or not the ISPs’ intent is to stop the bill completely or just ensure it doesn’t destroy them is unclear."

Kelly compares the current state of the telecom industry to a game of Risk, and he says the companies, themselves, are playing to win by focusing too much on the monetary aspect. 

"Playing only for money is their flawed tactic," he said. "If telecom companies cared about providing superior services, diversifying themselves as a free market, and having stellar customer service, their revenue would surpass their expectations."

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