Everyone should have broadband

If the infrastructure investment act passed by the Senate last week is signed into law, it should be possible for every American to have access to broadband, said Blair Levin in a blog post published Friday by public policy organization Brookings Institution.

As many Telecompetitor readers know, Levin is the man responsible for the FCC National Broadband Plan that has influenced federal broadband policy for more than a decade. Today, Levin is a nonresident senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program.

In the 1996 Telecom Act, Congress expanded universal service goals to include broadband, but never provided sufficient funding to achieve those goals until now, Levin noted in the blog post.

The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) passed by the Senate would allocate $65 billion for broadband, including $42.5 billion for deployments. When combined with tens of billions of dollars for broadband already allocated in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act, Levin said there would “probably” be enough funding to get “future proof broadband networks everywhere.”

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Levin cautioned, however, that the funding available to subsidize network operator broadband deployments to unserved areas will not be sufficient to cover the operating expense deficits for the 2% of locations that are most costly to serve.

He added, though, that the IIJA would give the FCC nine months to come up with a plan to reform the Universal Service program in a manner that considers the act’s impact on funding requirements. That, he said, is a “wise” element of the act.

Levin also praised the act for including funding for broadband affordability and adoption programs.

He cited “significant evidence that the primary reason for most of the lack of connectivity in homes” is affordability and argued that the current $10 subsidy offered in the FCC Lifeline program is not sufficient to address this issue. The IIJA would instead provide a $30 per month subsidy for low-income households and although it, too, is not a long-term solution, he expressed hope that the FCC’s USF reform efforts would address that issue.

As for broadband adoption, the IIJA would appropriate $2.75 billion for digital inclusion efforts, Levin noted.

Levin’s analysis of the Senate broadband infrastructure act wasn’t completely rosy, however. He argued, for example, that a reverse auction would have been a more efficient way to allocate broadband deployment funding instead of the “competitive grant” method outlined in the act.

He added, though, that this “tactical difference is less important than the scale of the funding commitment and the holistic approach to the problem.”

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