ATR Tells Congress Symmetrical Broadband Speed Requirements Waste Taxpayer Dollars

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Posted by Katie McAuliffe on Tuesday, May 18th, 2021, 12:10 PM PERMALINK

WASHINGTON – Today, Americans for Tax Reform sent a letter to the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government to provide simple alternatives to many of the wasteful proposals of the Joe Biden infrastructure plan.

You can read our letter below by clicking HERE and you read more about what the Committee has been doing HERE.

Dear Representatives:

If Congress intends to address broadband connectivity for those currently unserved, we urge you to do so in a targeted manner, with a results-based approach to ensure Americans who want broadband have access.

Congress should avoid overly restrictive definitions of what constitutes broadband. Calls for symmetrical speeds at 100 up and 100 down in the Biden infrastructure plan end up mandating only fiber and doesn’t take into consideration the asymmetrical needs of individual broadband users or the ability of private networks of to upgrade to meet demand over time.

Fiber is not the only option for broadband and in many cases, it is not the most efficient or best option for populations currently unserved. Cable, wireless, fixed wireless, and satellite are all capable of achieving speeds that meet the needs of Americans now and into the future for working remotely, telehealth, remote learning, and entertainment. According to Zoom, only 2 Mbps is required for high-quality video calling for both upstream and downstream, while Netflix requires only 0.5 Mbps per second.

Similar programs, like the Broadband Technology Opportunities program (BTOP), have been tried and failed. The $4 billion dollars given to expand broadband went to overbuilding infrastructure in places where it already existed. Again, it was found BTOP had no positive increase on the adaptation of broadband.

The government should not continue to misuse taxpayer money in tried-and-failed models of supporting broadband. In the limited spaces where the government will need to provide support, it should look towards successful approaches to dispersing aid. The Federal Communications Commission has used reverse auctions to deliver billions of dollars in aid to unserved Americans. This approach brings results by competitively placing funds in the hands of the best suited provider, instead of handing money to anyone who fills out the right form first.

Municipal or government run networks are also not the answer, especially ones that compete with private networks already in place. These networks can charge below market rates, which would be illegal for a private provider to do, because they receive tax subsidies. Even with these advantages they still fail as projects because they receive fewer subscribers than hoped and require constant updates to keep pace with the needs of subscribers. Taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize an ineffective service they may not even want to use. Studies have found that municipal broadband has had no positive increase on the adaption of broadband.

While the government may be suggesting an influx of $100 billion for broadband is revolutionary, it is not. A one-time spend, on a chosen technology, with a preference for government operators who will likely compete with existing private networks will not address the remaining digital divide. The private sector has invested over $1.6 trillion into wireline broadband since 1997, and after the lifting of several government restrictions, the private sector invested $80 billion in 2018 alone. The US’s prioritization of investment through both the public and private sector instead of the burdensome government regulation seen throughout Europe lead to better broadband results hands down.

We believe the best thing Congress can do to address the digital divide is reform the lifeline program at the FCC to be a sustainable solution to lack of connectivity due to cost, rather than returning to the failed programs of the past. Doing away with the Universal Service fee, which continues to put extreme pressure on a small segment of the population and moving to a Congressionally approved appropriation possibly attached to spectrum proceeds could be a viable solution. Congress should also do away with the Eligible Telecommunications Carriers requirement and move to a voucher program rather than a carrier directed program to increase options to individuals struggling to get online.

Should you have any questions or comments on this matter, please reach out to me, or our Director of Federal Policy, Katie McAuliffe, kmcauliffe@atr.org.

Onward,

Grover G. Norquist
President
Americans for Tax Reform

 

Photo Credit: Eleven Photographs

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