This week, three Senators introduced the “Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act of 2021.” The “BRIDGE Act” is the latest bill looking to spend $40 billion on broadband infrastructure, and responds to the current impasse in Congress over infrastructure funding. Introduced by Sens. Bennet (D-CO), Portman (R-OH), and King (I-Maine), the bill touts itself as a bipartisan alternative, and a way to disengage broadband funding from larger, stalled infrastructure discussions in Congress.

The BRIDGE Act ignores the massive amount of money that the federal government has allocated, but not spent, on broadband,” TechFreedom General Counsel James E. Dunstan said. “The FCC’s RDOF program has already committed $9.2 billion to support the buildout of high-speed service over the next decade. There’s another $11.2 billion budgeted to extend broadband to even more Americans through a second phase of that initiative. The FCC recently stood up a new $3.2 billion program to subsidize Internet service for low-income Americans. Congress has provided the FCC an additional $7.1 billion to support Internet connections for students. That’s over $30 billion in unspent money right there. Then there’s the $360 billion in the last stimulus bill, potentially all of which could be used for broadband. The spreadsheet on NTIA’s BroadbandUSA website shows almost 100 different federal projects with money to spend on broadband. Before Congress throws another $40 billion at broadband, lawmakers should at least figure out where all this allocated money will go, and how effective it’s been in closing the digital divide.”

“The BRIDGE Act has a number of provisions that will lead to even more wasteful government spending,” Dunstan continued. “The bill would let states use any mapping data or speed tests they choose, including tests that demonstrably understate both availability and speeds. That inaccuracy will invariably lead to overbuilding existing facilities for no net gain to the public. We’ve first got to get accurate maps.”  

“Worst of all, the BRIDGE Act would allow for broadband rate regulation, in the form of a requirement to provide an ‘affordable broadband service plan.’ This is a really bad idea, as we’ve seen play out time and again in industry after industry,” Dunstan continued. “As a court recently concluded in striking down New York’s broadband act, imposing rate regulation ‘contravenes the FCC’s determination that broadband internet ‘investment,’ ‘innovation,’ and ‘availab[ility]’ best obtains in a regulatory environment free of threat of common-carrier treatment, including its attendant rate regulation.’ Making providers ‘furnish broadband service at… a loss,’ on the contrary, would make serving new customers unprofitable.”

“Yes, we must continue to work to make broadband both more available and affordable,” Dunstan concluded. “But even while closing the Digital Divide, we must spend taxpayer dollars wisely. Private companies, which remain the engine behind the Internet, have invested over $1.8 trillion in building millions of miles and millions of connecting points of infrastructure at an unmatched end-user cost.”


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