Michigan BEAD Proposal Would Fund Paintball and Monster Trucks | Citizens Against Government Waste

Michigan BEAD Proposal Would Fund Paintball and Monster Trucks

The WasteWatcher

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) included $42.45 billion for broadband funding across the country.  Each state was guaranteed to receive at least $100 million.  The money was made available through the National Technology and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program.  Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) has been critical of the guidance provided by NTIA.  As states begin to receive funding and set up the process by which the money will be disbursed, CAGW has been keeping track of how this is being done.

In an October 31, 2023 letter, CAGW urged the Michigan High-Speed Internet Office (MIHI) to amend volume one of its BEAD draft funding proposal which MIHI submitted to the NTIA in September 2023.  This draft expands eligibility for BEAD funding well beyond BEAD guidance to include more than 100 entities categorized as stadiums, zoos, aquariums, wildlife centers, and convention centers, many of which are privately owned, for-profit businesses.

In its Notice of Funding Opportunity (NOFO) guidance, “NTIA underscores its strong preference that Eligible Entities… ensure deployment of gigabit connections to community anchor institutions such as libraries and community centers that lack such connectivity.”  To satisfy this “strong preference,” each state’s funding proposal includes its own definition of “community anchor institutions,” (CAIs).  The CAIs are supposed to enable greater connectivity in currently unserved and unserved communities.

While the MIHI proposal includes thousands of libraries and community centers, it also stretches the definition of CAIs to include more than 100 recreational facilities ranging from a trampoline park and a monster truck rally center to a Hell-themed paintball facility and 13 NASCAR or drag-racing speedways.  The list also includes 10 private zoos, five of which fail to meet the “standards for animal welfare, care, and management” required for accreditation.  In addition, of the 75 stadiums and sports centers eligible for qualification as a CAI, more than 40 are privately owned, including major league venues like Ford Field, Comerica Park, and Little Caesars Arena, which have long offered free Wi-Fi at their own expense.

The misuse of public funds to subsidize private recreational facilities, private zoos, and stadiums amounts to little more than corporate welfare.  These businesses have funded and can fund their own broadband buildouts and expansions without taxpayer support.  Taxpayers should not be asked to subsidize these private, for-profit businesses and divert BEAD funds away from bringing broadband to unserved Michiganders. 

Michigan’s unserved communities have the most immediate need for expanded broadband access.  Michigan’s High-Speed Internet Office should use BEAD funding to prioritize broadband access for unserved households and businesses and exclude private recreational facilities, private zoos, and stadiums from eligibility as Community Anchor Institutions.