Open Access Requirements Will Harm Broadband Deployment | Citizens Against Government Waste

Open Access Requirements Will Harm Broadband Deployment

The WasteWatcher

As prices rise for goods and services at the fastest pace in 40 years, broadband is one of the only areas of the economy that is providing improved service to a growing number of Americans at a lower cost.  Yet the Biden administration and many members of Congress have ignored these proven facts and continue to insist that access is limited, prices are too high, and there is not enough competition. 

That is one of several reasons why Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology are likely to berate the commissioners of the Federal Communications Commission at the March 31, 2022, hearing, “Connecting America: Oversight of the FCC,” and tell them they are not doing enough to connect more Americans to the internet.  Among their other absurd claims, the subcommittee members will be arguing that broadband access will increase if networks provide open access, meaning that companies that did not pay to build their own network can connect for free to another company’s network and operate their own broadband service. 

While this concept is not new it does little to encourage internet service providers to build and deploy next generation broadband networks in areas where the open access networks are built.  Instead, it encourages local governments and public utilities to leverage federal funding to build government-owned networks, which have proven to be costly, unsustainable, and anti-competitive, while also diverting resources from higher priorities and failing to solve connectivity issues.  Unfortunately, the Biden administration has made government-owned networks a priority for funding when developing regulations for state and local government spending of the $350 billion funds set aside for infrastructure in the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).  In January 2022, the Department of Treasury issued guidance for the funding allocated for infrastructure improvements in ARPA, setting a preference for fiber and either government-owned or nonprofit broadband networks. 

The latest spin on this idea is rather alarming.  Subcommittee members are not only encouraging federal funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to be tied to open access networks but also are pushing the National Information and Telecommunications Administration (NTIA) to force private companies receiving federal dollars for broadband deployment to provide their competitors access to their networks.  The reasoning behind this forced access, is to promote competition among internet service providers. 

Even though the idea is irrational, unworkable, and reduces rather than increases broadband access, members of Congress continue to promote open access.  This proposal was floated during the debate on the IIJA, but it was not included in the final package signed into law by President Biden.  But, in the vein of “if at first you don’t succeed, try again,” the proposal is being raised ahead of the oversight hearing.

NTIA is now developing guidance on spending the funding allocated to help connect all Americans to reliable, affordable, high-speed broadband in the IIJA.  The law does not include the same preferences as the Department of Treasury’s ARPA guidance.  Citizens Against Government Waste provided comments to the NTIA about how that money should be spent.

Connecting all Americans with high-speed broadband internet service is no easy task.  There is now an unprecedented amount of money available for broadband deployment, which should be more than enough to connect every truly unserved and underserved community.  The best way to prevent this money from being wasted is to require funds to be allocated in a technology and vendor neutral manner and avoid requirements like open access that force companies to give away their technology and capital investments over to the government for free.  That will reduce innovation and investment and fail to increase or improve access for those Americans who deserve and need to be connected.

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