In light of Big Telecom’s evident disdain for the experience of its customers, the quality of its product and even the basic tenets of free-market enterprise, it’s remarkable that the industry’s recent PR efforts spend so many column inches touting the importance of competition and innovation. More remarkable still is the industry’s straight-faced insistence that it is “government regulation” — and not Big Telecom’s own dysfunctional, corrupt business practices — that is to blame for the sorry state of broadband deployment in this country.
Telecoms have spent the better part of the past two decades collecting hundreds of billions of dollars in tacked-on fees and rate increases — approved by state governments and paid by us — for the explicit purpose of upgrading every home’s old copper phone wiring to lightning-fast fiber. Today, fiber is only available in 42 communities; for that matter, 34 percent of Americans — and a full 46 percent of African Americans — still don’t have high-speed Internet in our homes, period. So what did AT&T and company do with all our money? Apparently, they lined their own pockets, appropriating huge sums for executive pay and overseas investments.
Big Telecom is working frantically to deflect responsibility for the outcomes of its dirty dealing. It incessantly repeats complaints of unspecified “government regulation” to anyone who’ll listen, hoping we’ll buy that an industry raking in billions in public handouts is actually a victim of government overzealousness. And in doing so, the industry is trying to engineer an even bigger scam: AT&T and Verizon’s push to completely remove any vestige of FCC oversight from their business dealings is the biggest threat to the open Internet we’ve seen yet. If the FCC is barred from keeping an eye on these habitual bad actors, online free speech and our broader freedom to connect are in grave danger; entrenching the telecoms’ monopoly status would only incentivize more high prices and finally doom any expectation of real infrastructure investment.
ColorOfChange members know well Big Telecom’s pattern of manipulating the facts in order to maximize economic gain. When more than 73,000 of us took action to expose AT&T’s deceptive merger proposal in 2011, the company’s own lawyers ultimately confirmed that AT&T had fundamentally misled Congress, regulators and the public. At the time, a number of civil rights groups and leaders went along with AT&T‘s prepared talking points because they didn’t think they’d be held accountable for the industry’s casual relationship with the truth. Today, we should all know better.
Rashad Robinson is the executive director of ColorOfChange.org. With more than 850,000 members, ColorOfChange.org is the nation’s largest black online civil-rights organization.
The Root aims to foster and advance conversations about issues relevant to the black Diaspora by presenting a variety of opinions from all perspectives, whether or not those opinions are shared by our editorial staff.