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Jilani writes: "The next time you groan at the thought of paying your broadband bill, remember that some of America's biggest corporations - ranging from FedEx to WalMart - are funding a group that works to make sure your city is barred from offering a cheaper and faster service."

ALEC fights to keep communities from providing free internet access. (photo: lucent)
ALEC fights to keep communities from providing free internet access. (photo: lucent)

ALEC Wants You to Pay 750 Percent More for High-Speed Internet

By Zaid Jilani, Alternet

21 April 12


he American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) is the most powerful corporate front group you've never heard of. Drawing the vast majority of its financing from big corporations, the group allows these firms to help write bills that it then secretly passes off to state legislators to get turned into laws.

The organization has come under fire recently for backing "Stand Your Ground" laws and voter suppression efforts, leading to an exodus of some of its strongest corporate funders. But the group's policy agenda stretches far beyond these areas, and impacts just about every area of American life.

Take public high-speed broadband Internet. A few years ago, the city of Wilson, North Carolina, decided that it would create its own broadband system, which it called Greenlight. The service offered speeds twice as fast as private competitors in the area for a similar price. Soon, the success of the service spread, and a number of other cities began offering municipal broadband systems that were cheaper and/or faster than private competitors'.

But state legislators - who received $600,000 in contributions from the telecom industry in the previous election cycle - reacted to the spread of these successful services by undercutting them with a bill that made it very difficult for cities to operate their own broadband systems. One provision in the bill made it illegal for cities to offer broadband services that are priced below their costs. "This bill will make it practically impossible for cities to provide a fundamental service. Where's the bill to govern [cable provider] Time Warner? Let's be clear about whose bill this is. This is Time Warner's bill. You need to know who you're doing this for!" thundered Rep. Bill Faison (D) at the time. The bill was unfortunately passed into law.

ALEC did not publicly say that it was behind the North Carolina bill, but the bill bears similarities to ALEC legislation. ALEC is an outspoken opponent of municipal broadband and crafts model bills to limit and kill these systems. Telecom companies like AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner are all ALEC funders.

ALEC also unsuccessfully worked to undercut a public broadband system proposed by the city of Lafayette, Lousiana. ALEC's Louisiana state chair (a legislator) introduced a bill that would've placed onerous restrictions on how the city could use fiber-optic cables to provide cheap broadband. The broadband-undercutting bill "almost word for word, matched a piece of legislation kept in the library of the American Legislative Exchange Council." The most damaging provisions of the bill were removed before it was passed, and major telecom companies sued to try to stop Lafeyette from building its system anyway. Fortunately, they lost.

Lafayette's public system offers Internet speeds at a whopping 750 percent cheaper than rival Cox's service at the lowest tier. That means that if ALEC and the telecoms had succeeded in shutting down the system, life would be a whole lot slower.

The next time you groan at the thought of paying your broadband bill, remember that some of America's biggest corporations - ranging from FedEx to WalMart - are funding a group that works to make sure your city is barred from offering a cheaper and faster service. your social media marketing partner


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+4 # barbaratodish 2012-04-21 16:55
It seems like it is similar to when the various telephone companies changed over from dial tone to touch tone telephone service. People were told they HADto switch over. If they refused, yes their telephones operated slower, FOR A WHILE, then while still paying the lower dial tone rate they were kind of "grandfathered" in and finally got the upgrade free! So if we all keep what we have, we too may gain a "windfall" in internet terms!
+3 # pbbrodie 2012-04-22 06:28
I'm sorry but you obviously have no understanding of how the Internet or telephones work. I worked for AT&T for many years working on telephones and for MCI on the Internet and I know very well how both technologies function. There was never a slower speed for "dial tone" versus touch tone. Both switching types used the same transmission lines. The only difference was in how fast you were able to dial and get connected.
As to the Internet, speeds increase all of the time and the only thing you can possibly accomplish by waiting to be grandfathered in, as you call it, is to keep your slower speed as the newer and higher speeds are introduced. With the Internet, if you wait, you lose. Newer and better technologies are introduced almost daily and you will quickly be left behind.
0 # barbaratodish 2012-04-22 22:10
I also worked for NJ Bell, Bell Atlantic and AT&T. I was talking about monthly charges! When the old dial system was upgraded to Electronic Switching System (touch tone), those who kept their older systems were eventually grandfathered in without paying for the touch tone, and the same could happen with internet, who knows for sure? Either way, the utiltiy service providers PROJECT 20 to fifty + years in the future (same with banks, etc.,) based on their present billing, ( bank deposits are estimated, etc.), and these companies can make loans based on enormous projections of keeping their subscribers, so we are ALL being USED for various corporations' bottom lines!
+34 # Bill Clements 2012-04-21 18:26
Aside from greed, which is a given, there's no doubt in my mind that raising the cost of high-speed internet a whopping 750% would be another tactic that those like the Koch brothers would heartily endorse and be willing to throw their money behind. After all, anything that makes it more difficult for the 99% to stay connected or communicate would be all to the good.
+3 # dr.matrix 2012-04-22 01:26
While I definitely appreciate the reporting, I feel that the headline is misleading - which tends to undermine the credibility for the writer, and/or RSN. The implication is that your existing internet bill will go up by 750% because of ALEC, while in fact, it is really that they are trying to prevent it from going down in certain municipalities. Still bad, but nowhere near as malign as raising all of our bills by 750% If you are going to hold to a high standard of truth, then don't use inflammatory and misleading headlines.
+5 # Bill Clements 2012-04-22 12:19
Perhaps a different headline could have been better, but the thrust of the article makes it clear that ALEC funders like AT&T, Comcast, and Time Warner will do whatever it takes to kill these successful public broadband systems that are far, far cheaper than the telecom alternative and far faster.

For cities like Wilson, NC, where this legislation was successful, their internet bill does, indeed, appear to be headed upwards of 750% or whatever Time Warner charges for it's service. So, for cities who ALREADY HAVE a public broadband system, this legislation WILL see their existing internet bill go up. For the rest of America's cities who clearly see the advantage of a public broadband system that offers a better alternative (cheaper and faster) to what these telecom giants offer, this legislation is designed to keep their service where it is, i.e., "they are trying to prevent it from going down in certain municipalities. " BOTH scenarios are occurring. So, your depiction is also misleading.
+2 # infohiway 2012-04-22 03:17
Not much new there - other than changing faces.

ALEC: A nasty bump under a dirty, sheeple sheering, rug - claiming God, mother and apple pie 'patriotism'?

As the only definition of fascism is: The convergence of corporate (right-wing) and government (left-wing) interests, BINGO! With both wings flying in the same direction - of? Totalitarianism .

'Like willows in the wind' ALEC and the Mafia, fascists and communists, bend in the breeze; to swing, rip and hack. Back and forth. Taking turns, often in tandem, stealing money, land and rights.

The commercial courts are now there to protect commerce and government; occasionally punishing blatant excesses while methodically allowing more and more.

Has anyone at HSA considered the 750 million rounds of ammo they've ordered could seriously diminish the customer base of their corporate masters? Then what?
0 # Helen Marshall 2012-04-22 07:54
What is the point of the photograph that accompanies this article? Is that the driver using a laptop? Weird.
+1 # Bill Clements 2012-04-22 13:31
It's a stretch, I agree, but I think what the picture is trying to get at is someone (in this instance, a motorist who has pulled over somewhere in his car) accessing a public wifi network.
+1 # dick 2012-04-22 19:18
#1. We all KNOW that ALEC would LIKE us to pay 7500% more for everything. #2. Do you still need reasons to boycott WalMart?

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