Back in 1991, there was buzz around this great idea to use fiber optic cable to connect the country. It was dubbed the “Information Superhighway,” and phone companies were tapped to help lay down the infrastructure. Plans were drawn up. Tax breaks were given. Rates went up for consumers.

Nothing happened.

For over 20 years, consumers watched as Telecoms grew and merged and invested the $400 billion taxpayers handed to them. Business went on as usual. Consumers waited, year after year, for the promise to be fulfilled.

It wasn’t.

It took a heroic effort from Google to kick-start fiber optic internet in select cities, but even they started to back off as it became apparent that Telecoms wouldn’t simply let Google move in and steal away their hugely profitable business. Those lucky few cities that benefited from Google’s recent push into Fiber show us what could have been, if we had ever held the Telecom’s feet to the fire back in the 1990’s.

In the updated version of The Book Of Broken Promises: $400 Billion Broadband Scandal & Free Of The Net, Bruce Kushnick recounts on this reddit thread how companies were able to get over $400 billion in taxpayer money for free:

“They got away with it because they could create a fake history that reporters and politicians kept repeating. No state has ever done a full audit of the monies collected in the name of broadband; no state ever went back and reduced rates or held the companies accountable. And no company ever ‘outed’ the other companies– i.e., Verizon NJ never said that AT&T California didn’t do the upgrades. –that’s because they all did it, more or less.”

None of them ratted out the others, because they would all suffer consequences. The lack of oversight and accountability is staggering. And it’s something Americans really need, too. This map unveiled by PBS Newshour in 2015 compares internet cost to speed around the world. It shows that America is paying more for slower service. And it’s not like Americans are apathetic about it, either:

“We paid about 9 times for upgrades to fiber for home or schools and we got nothing to show for it — about $4000-7000 per household (though it varies by state and telco). By 2017 it’s over 1/2 trillion.”

Over and over again, we threw money at them because major Telecoms like AT&T were the ones we felt could best do the job. Instead they pocketed our money and charged us more, because we were willing to believe all that money we gave them would go to something that would benefit us in the future.

Nope. On average, people can’t trust businesses to have their best interests in mind.

This whole mess serves to illustrate an important aspect of business– like government, it can spiral out of control without checks and balances. Profit-based motives can make aspects of life grow and prosper, but they can also corrupt and stall progress in favor of short-term goals. As a country that takes pride in our initiative and innovation, Telecoms being allowed to walk away with over $400 billion after failing to deliver on their promises says something significant about how broken our Free Market really is. The Free Market isn’t supposed to be free of checks, balances, and regulations. Those things should exist to ensure that the American people get what they pay for. It was the FDA that made sure we didn’t have mice in our canned corn. It was the EPA that kept or rivers and reservoirs clean and safe. And it should be the FCC’s job to ensure that Telecoms aren’t allowed to get away with fraud. So what can be done?

“It’s time to take them to court. Period. We should go after the financial manipulations (cross-subsidies) where instead of doing the upgrades to fiber, they took the money and spent it everywhere else, like buying AOL or Time Warner (or overseas investments), etc. We should hold them accountable before this new FCC erases all of the laws and obligations.” Kushick adds.

The clock is ticking. How long are we willing to allow Telecoms to sit idly before we stand up and pull the chair out from underneath them?

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