$40 Billion Broadband Bill Is Costly, Unnecessary, and Wasteful | Citizens Against Government Waste

$40 Billion Broadband Bill Is Costly, Unnecessary, and Wasteful

The WasteWatcher

A Democrat, an Independent, and a Republican walk into a bar to talk about increasing access to broadband … but there is no humorous punchline here, just a terrible piece of legislation that would do more harm than good.  The Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act of 2021 (BRIDGE Act), introduced on June 15, 2021, by Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), would provide $40 billion for broadband deployment, even though billions of dollars in funding have been provided through the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) Rural Digital Opportunities (RDOF) Fund auction in the fall of 2020, and additional broadband funding of potentially hundreds of billions of dollars was made available through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), which was signed into law by President Biden on March 11, 2021. 

Many states have already adopted or are considering how to use the ARPA money to increase access for unserved and underserved areas of their state.  In Vermont, for example, the governor’s proposal to spend $250.5 million, 24 percent of total ARPA funding, on "connectivity" would be sufficient to reach every such household.  And while the Rescue Plan does not supersede, undermine, or otherwise violate state laws that in many cases prohibit or restrict government-owned broadband networks, the BRIDGE Act would pre-empt such laws.  It also imposes increasingly higher standards for broadband deployment in underserved and “other qualifying areas” and imposes rate restrictions (rate setting) on internet service providers. 

The legislation also permits states to use the mapping data of their choice, which “may include” the new FCC map, the National Telecommunications and Information Agency map, or state-level broadband data.  This will not only lead to inconsistent results across the country, but it will also show many areas as unserved that already have access to the internet.  And it runs contrary to the bipartisan Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act, legislation that was co-sponsored by Sen. King and passed by voice vote in the Senate before being signed into law on March 23, 2020.  This law reformed the FCC’s broadband data collection and mapping process to create more accurate and granular broadband availability maps and included $98 million to fund this effort.  Congress has made it clear that the FCC should be the sole source of mapping data to determine unserved and underserved areas of the country.

As Citizens Against Government Waste pointed out in “The Folly of Government-Owned Networks, any funds provided by the government for broadband “should not designate a single technology (fiber) or set a preference for government-owned networks (GONs).  Instead, federal, state, and local governments should enact laws and regulations that are vendor and technology neutral, making it easier for the private sector to expand its reach in underserved and unserved communities, and stay out of the way of the incredible progress that has been made in broadband service and reach.”  CAGW has also noted that RDOF and ARPA money, among other available funds for broadband, eliminate the need for any additional expenditures, including legislation like the costly, unnecessary, and wasteful BRIDGE Act.  This is the wrong approach to broadband funding for all members of Congress, particularly Republicans who usually support smaller, less intrusive government and the free market.