Bernie's $150 Billion Broadband Boondoggle | Citizens Against Government Waste

Bernie's $150 Billion Broadband Boondoggle

The WasteWatcher

Following the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in early January, news reports about the latest in consumer technology, including new mobility pods, artificial intelligence, privacy devices for Wi-Fi routers, and biometrics for security devices have provided consumers with a look at the future.  But the ability to use the latest and best technology could be undermined if the latest socialist proposal from Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) becomes a reality.

In yet another of his seemingly infinite attempts to spend other people’s money to co-opt yet another successful and ubiquitous private industry, on December 6, 2019, Sanders announced his intention, if elected, to spend $150 billion in grants and aid to local and state governments to build government-run broadband networks.  This costly plan is more than 20 times higher than former President Obama’s $7.2 billion broadband stimulus plan, which was found to be a massive waste of money. 

Sen. Sanders has also declared his intention to break apart companies that have built high-speed internet networks across the country and turn these networks into a government-run utility that would all be “free” and constitute a new “basic human right” that does not exist anywhere except in the minds of the most avowed socialists. 

Building broadband internet networks is neither easy nor cheap.  According to NCTA, an internet association, since 1996 U.S. companies have made more than $290 billion in capital investments to expand and improve their internet networks.  US Telecom estimates that in 2017, broadband providers invested between $72 and $74 billion in network infrastructure. 

When a government municipality decides to provide broadband services, the high initial and ongoing costs involved are passed on to taxpayers.  A 2014 Mercatus Institute  study concluded that government-run broadband networks have virtually no impact on the economic status of a town or city, other than swelling the size of government.

The citizens of Provo, Utah learned that lesson the expensive way when, in 2004, city government officials decided to take on new debt to build a $39 million fiber-optic network, called iProvo.  That effort failed spectacularly.  In 2013, Google and the city announced that Google Fiber had purchased the remaining municipal fiber deployments set up by iProvo for $1.  The sale at least got Provo out of the business of providing internet service to its residents, but the taxpayers are still paying off the debt their ill-fated experiment already incurred.

Sen. Sanders touted the city of Chattanooga, Tennessee as a model for municipal broadband excellence, but the Chattanooga project is not the paragon of self-sufficiency he made it out to be.  In an August 18, 2016 article in The Tennessean,  Dr. George Ford, the chief economist at the Phoenix Center for Advanced Legal & Economic Public Policy Studies, noted that the city’s $330 million expenditure included $105 million from taxpayers outside Tennessee, and the remainder was funded through the city’s captive electricity ratepayers.  Most Chattanoogans continue to purchase internet services from private providers rather than relying on the city-owned network. 

Stylizing himself as a modern day “Robin Hood,” Sen. Sanders seeks to take from those he deems to be “the rich” and give it away to others by eliminating all competition to his proposed government-run internet network. 

He may be peddling the most expensive and outlandish broadband proposal, but Sen. Sanders is not the only democratic candidate in the presidential race itching to take over and control access to the internet or to push a massive expansion of government-funded broadband programs.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) has proposed spending $85 billion to provide universal high-speed internet, and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has announced plans to invest at least $80 billion for rural broadband.  Former Vice President Joe Biden’s meager $20 billion giveaway proposal to enhance rural internet access seems rather modest by comparison. 

Much like former President Obama’s wasteful 2009 stimulus program, municipal broadband over build projects all have something in common; other than the increasingly higher taxes that will be needed to pay for and maintain these systems, there will be little return for taxpayers.  Instead, they can count on more government intrusion, and more problems with internet privacy, security, and the safeguarding of personal information.

While everyone is looking forward to using the latest technology innovations showcased at CES, they should hope that these broadband for all acolytes take a break from their socialist solutions and look in a different direction for answers to broadband expansion.  The Federal Communications Commission has been working to solve the issues surrounding broadband deployment across the country by reducing regulatory burdens on providers and increasing access to existing funding mechanisms and resources, including spectrum, rather than offering multi-billion-dollar fantasies for federally-funded broadband boondoggles that would leave taxpayers holding hefty bills for glacially slow and stagnant internet service.