By Johnny Kampis
President-elect Joe Biden’s broadband plan indicates he will push for more government-owned (taxpayer-funded) internet networks, which would be bad news for taxpayers.
Biden’s agenda, released on his website during his presidential campaign, talks in detail about his broadband goals. That includes expanding broadband to every American, which could include wireless broadband through the deployment of 5G.
The most alarming part of the plan: Biden says he will task the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “to support cities and towns that want to build municipally-owned broadband networks.” This means that taxpayers will be on the hook for these systems.
A Democratic task force put together by Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wants to empower the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to largely undo much of what was accomplished by Chairman Ajit Pai under the Trump administration, including reversing the agency’s stance on government broadband.
“Democrats will take action to prevent states from blocking municipalities and rural co-ops from building publicly-owned broadband networks, and increase federal support for municipal broadband,” the recommendations released by that task force this summer state.
But the list of such projects that were tried and failed are quite long. The Taxpayers Protection Alliance highlighted many of them in its May report “GON with the Wind: The Failed Promise of Government Owned Networks Across America.” More follies are noted on TPA’s “Broadband Boondoggles.”
Jeffrey Westling, a fellow in innovation and technology policy at R Street Institute, told TPA that government can help usher in infrastructure growth in other ways, such as loosening regulations and offering incentives to private providers to aid expansion to high-cost areas such as rural America. That’s a better plan than promoting municipal broadband, he said.
“There’s a better way of doing this that doesn’t put taxpayers at risk,” Westling said.
Wish list for the Biden administration
U.S. Telecom: The Broadband Association agrees with Westling. In its agenda for the next administration’s first 100 days, the organization lays out its wish list for the goal of connecting every American with broadband.
This includes addressing “antiquated policies” that harm broadband deployment and discourage competition. U.S. Telecom said the administration can work to eliminate high pole attachment rates, help expedite permitting processes and lift mandates that companies must sustain outdated networks rather than devote more resources to deploying the next generation of networks.
U.S. Telecom also said Congress should fund the Broadband Data Act so the FCC can create better broadband maps to ensure taxpayer resources are better targeted toward unserved and underserved areas. The group also rejects any proposal that would treat broadband as a government utility and the potential red tape that could ensue.
“All policies should be viewed with an eye toward removing barriers that impede getting broadband to everyone,” the U.S. Telecom agenda states.
Biden has indicated his desire to significantly increase spending on broadband infrastructure – a move not unheralded, if never implemented, under President Trump – including allocating an additional $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure.
As for a program to specifically fund government-owned networks, a plan touted by Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), is not likely if the final results of the 2020 election turn out as expected and the GOP keeps control of the upper chamber of Congress.
“I don’t see something like that getting past a Republican Senate,” Brent Skorup, senior research fellow in technology at the Mercatus Center, told TPA.
Rather than push for the growth of government internet, the FCC under the Biden administration would be better served to leave the task of infrastructure growth to the private sector and remove any regulations that would impede that goal.
Johnny Kampis is an investigative reporter for the Taxpayers Protection Alliance.