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Broadband in America
Seattle’s struggle isn’t unique. American broadband is among the slowest and most expensive of developed countries.
The city of Seattle claims there's nothing they can do about this. When they later apologized for the food snafu, they explained, “[we] do not regulate private businesses. It does not mean we do not think it is important, it is just not our role. Consumer protection is under State regulations and they have policies to help address this kind of complaint.”
This from the city that sends out compost inspectors if you try to cancel your yard waste. (Yes, the city warned me recently that it will actually do this.) The city of Seattle already regulates private business in a number of ways — granting licenses, monitoring labor rules and food safety, for starters. Just not broadband.
Reporting on the city's broadband agreement with Comcast, which expires in 2016, Geekwire explained that "Internet services are regulated by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC); … Telephone services and/or fees are regulated by the State of Washington.”
Given the importance of broadband as a utility, the oligopoly maintained by CenturyLink and Comcast and their reputation for poor customer service, Washington should be closely regulating these businesses, but so far we’ve seen nothing beyond fraud protection.
Why? We live in a state that’s laissez faire about big business: The Legislature recently granted $8 billion in tax breaks to Boeing without performance requirements.
What about the FCC? Broadband oligopolies have existed for years, but the FCC has chosen not to intensify regulations. In fact, its chairman, Tom Wheeler, is a former industry lobbyist and is currently leading the drive to end net neutrality. This lack of restriction on the revolving door of industry executives moving to and from government roles fosters abuse.
In academic terms, this is called regulatory capture — an agency intended to regulate a specific industry in the public interest that instead advances the interests of that industry.
The laws of these regulatory agencies also create narrowly defined boxes in which citizens can make change and force energy through a system with very limited outputs, such as the controls the city of Seattle is allowed on the broadband market.
As money permeates politics more deeply in the post-Citizens United era, we also end up with legislative capture. An April study by Princeton and Northwestern Universities found that the U.S. government is not a democracy, but an oligarchy. “Contrary to what decades of political science research might lead you to believe," study author Martin Gilens told Talking Points Memo in April, "ordinary citizens have virtually no influence over what their government does in the United States.”
As Politico reported last year, “this (do-nothing) Congress has only enacted 49 laws, the fewest since at least 1947”.
When Congress does act, it is on behalf of corporate interests. This is evident not only in this recent attack on net neutrality, but in the industry-biased Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) and the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA now CISA). Similarly, the proposed Comcast-Time Warner merger and allegations of NSA spying on behalf of industry show whom government's interests favor.
The moral of the story is this: The FCC is currently in no position to act in the interest of consumers to regulate broadband companies.
Back to Macklemore
So how does Macklemore fit into our broadband struggles?
Cultural acceptance of marriage equality has rapidly reversed in the past few years, going from from 37 percent in 2003 to 59 percent in 2014. Now, publicly standing against same sex marriage is becoming culturally unacceptable. Elevated by Macklemore's hit 'Same Love,' the issue is currently on a victory lap through the courts and even forcing changes in law. All of this was unimaginable a few years ago.
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