Hearing on “Broadband Equity: Addressing Disparities in Access and Affordability”
R Street commends the Committee on its continuing efforts to promote broadband availability and adoption, as well as this hearing to explore potential disparities among Americans.[i] Broadband has never been more important, and it is critical that we continue to explore different options for bridging the digital divide. However, many proposals currently on the table can be counterproductive or waste valuable taxpayer dollars. As the committee considers the different options before it, R Street submits two recent publications to help provide context to the current regulatory environment, as well as potential solutions that will help spur both deployment and adoption of broadband services.
On the broadband deployment side, an R Street blog post details the potential hazards with the Biden infrastructure proposals.[ii] Most worrisome, the plan appears to call for a favoritism toward municipally run networks, despite significant potential problems with these networks.[iii] Further, the plan also calls for future proofing broadband networks, though this essentially means fiber networks with symmetrical 100 megabits per second (Mbps) upload and download speeds. These proposals would harm competition and innovation, leading to lower private investment in broadband infrastructure. Instead, Congress should continue the streamlining of local deployment processes, as local barriers such as access to public rights-of-way and replacing utility poles can often serve as a significant barrier to deployment.[iv]
On the broadband adoption side, the Biden plan also alluded to potential price controls, with general sentiment being that broadband prices are too high. However, data suggests prices are lower and speeds are higher than ever before.[v] To the extent that low-income consumers need additional support to afford broadband connectivity, Congress should instead look to potential reforms to the Lifeline program that would deliver the benefit directly to the consumers, as well as update the funding mechanism to bring stability to the program. R Street’s policy short on the subject can help provide context and analysis on some of these proposals.[vi]
Broadband is critical for Americans, and we commend the Committee for continuing its work to help connect people across the country. Please see attached for the publications mentioned above.
Jeffrey Westling, Technology and Innovation Policy Resident Fellow
R Street Institute
Hon. Frank Pallone, Chairman Hon. Cathy McMorris Rodgers
House Energy & Commerce Committee House Energy & Commerce Committee
U.S. House of Representatives U.S. House of Representatives
2125 Rayburn House Office Building 1035 Longworth House Office Building
[i] “Hearing on ‘Broadband Equity: Addressing Disparities in Access and Affordability’” Before the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology of the Committee on Energy & Commerce, 117th Cong. May 6, 2021. https://energycommerce.house.gov/committee-activity/hearings/hearing-on-broadband-equity-addressing-disparities-in-access-and.
[ii] Jeffrey Westling, “Biden infrastructure package ignores practical reforms to spur broadband deployment,” R Street Blog Post, April 14, 2021. https://www.rstreet.org/2021/04/14/biden-infrastructure-package-ignores-practical-reforms-to-spur-broadband-deployment/.
[iii] Briefing Room, “FACT SHEET: The American Jobs Plan,” The White House, March 31, 2021. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/31/fact-sheet-the-american-jobs-plan/.
[iv] Jeffrey Westling, “2020 Broadband Scorecard Report,” R Street Policy Study, Feb. 10, 2021. https://www.rstreet.org/2021/02/10/2020-broadband-scorecard-report/.
[v] 2020 Broadband Pricing Index Report, United States Telecom Association, 2020. https://www.ustelecom.org/research/2020-broadband-pricing-index-report/.
[vi] Jeffrey Westling, “Updating the Lifeline Program,” R Street Policy Study, April 22, 2021. https://www.rstreet.org/2021/04/22/updating-the-lifeline-program/.