Biden’s Broadband Plan Would Promote Risky Taxpayer-Funded Networks
Jeffrey Westling, a fellow in innovation and technology policy at the Libertarian-leaning R Street Institute, told TPA that Biden’s plan would put taxpayers at risk by promoting the construction of government-owned networks, especially if those systems don’t get the promised take rates needed to break even, an issue with many of the projects highlighted in the TPA report.
“Your taxes are going to go up or you’re going to lose services in other areas” to make up the shortfall, Westling noted.
On the other hand, government can play a useful role in the promotion of broadband, such as installing conduit, loosening regulations and offering incentives to private providers, he said.
“There’s a better way of doing this that doesn’t put taxpayers at risk,” Westling said.
Biden’s broadband agenda also includes the following plans:
— Spending an additional $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure, in large part by tripling the size of the USDA Community Connect grant program.
— Making available federally controlled telecom resources such as towers, poles and rights-of-way to facilitate broadband growth.
— Working on reform for the Federal Communication Commission’s Lifeline program. Biden says he will encourage the participation of more providers, reduce fraud and abuse, and offer more subsidies.
— Promoting the passage of the Digital Equity Act, which would require the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to establish grant programs — more taxpayer money — to promote digital equity, support digital inclusion activities and work with states to increase broadband adoption by their residents.
Westling said broadband grant programs can work as long as resources are allocated to the correct places. A constant struggle in expanding broadband infrastructure is hitting truly unserved or underserved areas rather than overbuilding in areas that already have access, a problem that the FCC is now attempting to tackle.
“You need to have a good understanding of the community and the available access,” he said. “For those without access, grant programs are going to be great.”
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