A barrage of statements from broadband provider associations and think tanks followed the announcement yesterday of the Biden administration’s proposal for an American Jobs Plan, which, if adopted, would provide $100 billion for broadband.
While the providers expressed support for the plans, some offered a few cautionary words. The think tanks were the most critical of the proposal.
Biden Broadband Proposal
Details of the Biden broadband proposal were not revealed, but according to a fact sheet, the proposal calls for using funding to build future-proof broadband networks. It would give “priority support” to local governments, non-profits and cooperatives and would remove barriers to rural electric cooperatives and municipalities.
A key goal of the proposal is lower broadband pricing, which Biden believes can eliminate the need to subsidize overpriced service – an apparent reference to the Universal Service Fund, or at least to the Lifeline portion of the fund, which pays some of the cost of broadband service for low-income households.
Several broadband associations – including NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association and ACA Connects – praised the concept of future-proof networks, a plan that would seem to involve fiber broadband.
“If we have learned anything from the last year, it is that connections matter, broadband matters – and speed and capacity matter,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, in a prepared statement.
“Build it once, build it right,” said ACA Connects President and CEO Matthew M. Polka in his own prepared statement.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), said Biden’s focus was “right on target,” but didn’t mention future-proof networks. Instead, the organization essentially recapped the key points of its “path to gigabit” strategy, which it said would help build “evolutionary broadband networks” that are “competitive” and “ubiquitous.”
Two associations representing utility companies praised Biden’s plan to make it easier for such companies to offer broadband.
The Utilities Technology Council (UTC) said it appreciated the White House’s call to remove barriers that may prevent cooperatives and municipalities from offering broadband.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association highlighted Biden’s reference to cooperatives that have “less pressure to turn profits and with a commitment to serving entire communities.”
USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter offered a rebuttal of sorts in his comments. While noting that the organization shares Biden’s belief that connectivity for all is a national priority, Spalter said we should remember that “our shared communications networks are backed by $1.8 trillion in private investment” and noted that “today’s broadband marketplace is . . ultra-competitive, defined by increasing speeds, declining prices, new entrants and next-generation technologies.”
The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, which calls itself “an independent, nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational institute focusing on the intersection of technological innovation and public policy” had perhaps the most negative reaction to the Biden broadband proposal.
The organization said Biden’s plan “goes overboard and threatens to undermine private competition that successfully serves most of the United States.” ITIF added that “if not properly targeted, such a large investment risks undermining incentives for private capital to invest even where it can do so profitably.”
Comments from The Internet Innovation Alliance (IIA) were also quite negative, but about a different aspect of the Biden broadband proposal.
The Lifeline program shouldn’t be eliminated but instead should be modernized, IIA said, arguing that “it’s unrealistic to think that broadband prices could be artificially lowered, as the plan recommends, to a point that they are affordable for Americans most in need of assistance, while simultaneously leaving service providers with sufficient revenue to build, upgrade and maintain the networks that keep the United States globally competitive.”