Presidential hopeful Sen. Elizabeth Warren is enjoying a sudden surge in popularity, with recent polls suggesting she’s now in second place, with 19 percent support. But while this uptick may be, in part, to Sen. Kamala Harris’ bad performance during the last Democratic debate, it does force us to wonder whether Warren could be the Democratic Party’s pick for presidential candidate. In this case, policies she’s championed and promises to double down if elected should be taken seriously, and we should all remember that while she seems harmless on the surface, her vision for America isn’t.
“Let’s create a federal Office of Broadband Access,” the presidential hopeful said, “and invest $85 billion into making sure every home in America has a broadband connection.”
In case the public wasn’t quite sure what that meant, the candidate explained that her proposal would “[mean] publicly-owned and operated networks — no giant telecom companies running away with taxpayer dollars.”
Also on Twitter, economist Robert Murphy commented on her idea, saying that her plan would boil down to nothing but one large bureaucracy incapable of delivering a good service.
But what’s even worse than just delivering a bad service, a government-controlled internet would also put a newly created federal agency in charge of our communications. If anything, this would make the job of intelligence agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) much easier. Especially if municipalities are handed grants from the federal government to invest on high-speed internet locally, as these local authorities would be beholden to the federal government, and residents would have no recourse in case the feds come for their data.
To the average American, however, privacy might not be a concern. And hearing a top Democratic candidate offer access to “affordable” high-speed internet provided by what she calls “publicly-owned and operated networks” might just be enough to get them to warm up to the senator. In the end, they will learn the hard way that anything offered by the government can be offered more efficiently and for less in the private market — if only the government would allow it.
The Seen and the Unseen
Internet service providers (ISPs) are often demonized by politicians like Warren, who like to take a stab at private companies so they may justify government involvement. But not all broadband companies are major corporations. Interestingly enough, the small companies are actually dying out thanks to government’s involvement in the industry, imposing roadblocks that make it nearly impossible for a small firm to compete.
The main culprits in this case are local governments themselves, as they impose high fees to give broadband companies access to publicly owned land.
Oftentimes, big cable becomes the only option to many municipalities precisely because the “rights of way” are inaccessible to firms with less investment capital. In other words, rural areas where access to internet is lacking are being underserved by the market because local governments stand in the way.
If Warren did care about us enough to think of both our privacy and our internet access, she would have simply proposed an end to these barriers, promoting the “open access” approach and suggesting that local governments give ISPs access to public land. This would give smaller firms the incentives they require to serve less populated communities.