President Joe Biden’s American employment plan, which includes a laundry list of infrastructure proposals valued at $ 2 trillion, seeks to allocate more tax dollars ($ 100 billion) to broadband despite a flawed government track record on high-speed Internet.
A White House statement on the plan said the goal is to bring “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband” to “every American, including more than a third of rural Americans who currently lack broadband access.” The plan calls for $ 100 billion in tax dollars to be used towards this goal.
Taxpayer dollars are already being spent on broadband and it’s not going very well. A US Government Accountability Office report found that federal spending on digital divide programs totaled $ 47.3 billion between 2009 and 2017. This assignment pales in comparison to the $ 172 billion Private sector spending from 2011 to 2020.
The Associated Press noted that despite this government spending, the gap persists. Over the next decade, an additional $ 20 billion has been allocated for rural broadband, an additional $ 9 billion for 5G in rural areas, and billions more for the COVID-19 pandemic. None of these conspicuous sums include the $ 100 billion proposed by the Biden government. And thanks to efforts by the private sector, a staggering 1.3 million (340,000 rural) additional households have broadband availability as of 2019.
Daniel Lyons, a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the government’s plan to make sure every American has high-speed internet is a priority, but “the devil is in the details.”
The plan states that the administration intends to “future-proof” the broadband infrastructure that will be built with the allocated funds, but as Lyons notes, “predicting the future of the telecommunications network is a breeze.” Although small cellular operators have done the work of Yeoman in recent years to connect some of the hardest-to-reach rural areas, Biden’s plan would focus on fiber optic networks.
“The picking of winners and losers among the network models undermines the intermodal competition that drives all technology and increases the chances of finding the most efficient way to serve individual pockets of unserved customers,” Lyons wrote.
He also notes that the plan mentions underserved and underserved areas in the same breath, although these are two very different terms. Prioritizing unserved areas would steer infrastructure where it is needed most, while allocating funds for underserved areas can sometimes lead to overbuilding. This is especially true as there is no precise definition of what it means that an area is underserved.
Michael Powell, President and CEO of NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, released a statement on the plan that the government is “taking the risk of seriously wrong turn” to promote state networks and close the digital divide. The impetus for this rhetoric comes from the government’s insistence on treating broadband like a utility company.
“This shift is being fueled by the mistaken amalgamation of our successful modern digital networks with our decaying roads, bridges, waterways and power grids,” said Powell. “While we’ve seen repeated examples of traditional infrastructure outages over the past few years, America’s broadband has been a dependable workhorse as millions of Americans have worked, learned, and connected from home during the pandemic.”
Similar to the infrastructure failures mentioned by Powell, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) has been reporting on the failures of state-owned networks for years. Examples are not missing and many are highlighted on TPAs Broadband boondoggles Website and GON With the wind Report published last year.
The private sector is more than capable of closing the digital divide if it is freed from the shackles of onerous regulation. Rather than throwing more tax dollars on broadband at a time when national debt is piling up at a record rate, the Biden government would be better able to cut red tape and get the private sector to work.
The private sector has and will close the digital divide more efficiently – all without taxpayers’ money.
Johnny Kampis is a Senior Fellow and investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.