Today, millions of Americans still lack access to high-speed Internet. Closing this digital divide is critical to enable businesses and consumers to be connected. But a government agency has decided to undermine a recent bipartisan law that would help get millions of Americans connected in order to impose their own ideological agenda through a bizarre set of new rules and requirements.
Broadband access is an overwhelmingly bipartisan issue and is vital to ensuring millions of Americans are not left behind in the digital economy. In 2021, Congress passed the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which allocated $42 billion to close the digital divide, the largest ever public sector investment in broadband.
Despite bipartisan efforts to improve internet access, bureaucratic politics are making proposals that threaten the program's success. The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is imposing unnecessary and ideological requirements on broadband deployment, including unfairly favoring unions and government-run broadband, and imposing a confusing patchwork of regulations. Importantly, these new requirements were NOT included in the law passed by Congress and in some cases were specifically rejected by our elected lawmakers.
These requirements undermine the bipartisan nature of the program and will make it harder to connect all Americans and close the digital divide. The result may turn a bipartisan legislative victory into another failed government program.
Bureaucratic Barriers to Broadband Access
- Government-run networks: Despite IIJA’s neutrality in respect to the type of broadband provider, the program undermines this neutrality to promote government-owned networks by imposing burdensome requirements as well as pressuring states and territories to waive laws that place restrictions on public sector broadband providers, even if they predate IIJA enactment. In general, government-owned networks have a poor track record of investing taxpayer dollars, continuously innovating to provide better service, and often lack the expertise to sufficiently maintain broadband networks. Moreover, government-owned networks can distort competition, especially considering that the same state and local governments that are in part responsible for granting permits to broadband providers may also be building or maintaining their own competing network.
- Confusing patchwork of regulations: The program requires that all funding recipients must ensure that broadband providers do not “impose unjust or unreasonable network management practices” akin to net neutrality requirements. This requirement is unclear and exacerbates the challenge that broadband practices may be regulated differently across states and territories, creating a patchwork of laws.
- Ill-defined middle-class affordability program: The program requires states and territories to create a “middle-class affordability program”, which can take the form of low-cost plans, consumer subsidies, regulations to promote structural competition, or other means. This ill-defined program opens the door to additional state-level intervention in the broadband marketplace, which could include solutions such as rate regulation that will hinder deployment and investment.
- Unfairly favors unions: The program pressures state and broadband providers to align with the Administration’s favored union-friendly policies. Such policies have nothing to do with connecting all Americans and everything to do with advancing unrelated union priorities on worker misclassification, preferences against non-union subcontractors, prevailing wage requirements, and project labor agreements. These policies only serve to increase costs and slow deployment.
Why You Should Be Concerned
- Higher costs: Adding unnecessary requirements to broadband funding makes the program more expensive, making it harder to connect all Americans.
- Jeopardizes program success: The Administration's addition of unnecessary and politically driven requirements to the broadband grant program in the IIJA may cause the program to fail.
- Ideologically driven: Bureaucrats can use their power to bypass Congress and the usual process of creating regulations to push their own political ideas, rather than focusing on the bipartisan goal of closing the digital divide.