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Tech Giants Finally Abandon ALEC, the Group That Killed Broadband Competition

A look at the "charity" who writes some 200 American laws every year.
September 26, 2014, 4:40pm
The Android alien waves goodbye to ALEC. Image: Kenneth Lu/Flickr

What do GoogleFacebookMicrosoftYahoo, and Yelp all have in common? They're pulling out of the American Legislative Exchange Council, left and right. And thank goodness: ALEC, the nonprofit, "charity" group, is the one that has ushered in an environment where there is essentially no broadband competition.

Ostensibly, Google pulled out of the Koch-backed, right-leaning "model legislative group" because it was "literally lying" about climate change, Microsoft didn't like ALEC's stance on renewable energy, and Facebook has yet to give a reason.

But really, the reason doesn't matter. ALEC's conservative policies are quite terrible for tech companies. Historically, it has existed specifically to let big business effect local changes that are good for big business. And that quite specifically includes fostering an environment in which creating competitive alternative internet service providers is nearly impossible, even illegal.

Special interests effectively turn ALEC's lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists

For the uninitiated, model legislative groups write bills that can be reused in many different states. Basically, ALEC lawyers will draw up legislation—to choose not-so-randomly, say, a bill that makes it illegal for local governments to start their own municipal broadband networks—and then shop it around to state legislators across the country.

Once it has a lawmaker willing to introduce its bill (and it's easy to get a champion, because 2,000 state legislators are members of ALEC), it (and its several-hundred corporate members) can go about lobbying to get the bill passed. In essence, it's national legislation being force-fed to people on a local and state level, the idea being that if something can't be passed in Washington, well, why not try to get it passed in as many states as possible.

That's why we have 20 states where where it's illegal (or very difficult, legally speaking) for local governments to start their own broadband networks—and, well, most of those states have similarly worded legislation, because a lot of it came from the came place. In a not-so-shocking coincidence, AT&T, Comcast, Verizon, Century Link, Sprint Nextel, T-Mobile, Time Warner, the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, and DirecTV are all members of ALEC.

Is it any surprise, then, that ALEC has championed a piece of legislation, the "Municipal Telecommunications Private Industry Safeguards Act", that "limits the authority of municipalities to own and operate telecommunications and advanced service and cable television facilities and to provide public and advanced telecommunication and cable television services to a municipality's inhabitants"?

ALEC has very publicly opposed the idea that the Federal Communications Commission could try to preempt the laws the group helped pass to allow states to create their own broadband networks. From an ALEC letter written earlier this month:

Local government entry into the provision of wholesale or retail Internet or broadband services in an attempt to create competition should be permissible only in unserved areas and only where no business case for private service exists, upon a vote by local citizens, and subject to protections against cross-subsidies through taxes or other local government service revenues.

Is it any surprise, as well, that "ALEC voices its support of lawmakers and regulators avoiding the unnecessary, burdensome and economically harmful regulation of broadband Internet service companies, including the providers of the infrastructure that supports and enables Internet services"?

Of course, those lawmakers that ALEC "voices its support of" are quickly turned into big business shills. An investigative New York Times report from 2012, in which hundreds of pages of ALEC correspondence were reviewed by its reporters, found that "special interests effectively turn ALEC's lawmaker members into stealth lobbyists, providing them with talking points, signaling how they should vote and collaborating on bills affecting hundreds of issues like school vouchers and tobacco taxes."

Each year, ALEC-supporting lawmakers, the overwhelming majority of which are Republican, introduce more than 1,000 laws. Roughly 200 of those proposed laws are passed.

You can thank ALEC lawmakers for Stand Your Ground laws, new voter identification laws, ag-gag laws that classify whistleblowers as criminals, a series of laws that classify animal and environmental rights activists as terrorists, "three strikes" laws, many energy deregulation and anti-environment bills, school voucher program laws, and anti-Obamacare laws. There's even whispers that the organization has begun quietly opposing overseas laws requiring plain packaging for cigarettes.

So, Google is out, Facebook is out, Microsoft is out, Yelp is out, Yahoo is out. Good on them. Your move, eBay and AOL.