If you’re reading this blog, you have accessed the internet to get here. But for many, predominantly in rural areas, broadband access remains limited. This is not for lack of attention to the problem. In addition to private funding, federal and state efforts have spent billions of dollars to address this problem over the years with varying degrees of effectiveness, and there are billions in funding currently flowing out for more broadband projects as a result of pandemic-era funding bills. Most recently, the infrastructure bill has provided another $42 billion in funding through its Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program on top of the existing efforts. But will this close the gap once and for all, or will we look back at this as a case of opportunity (and funds) lost? Should the country prioritize speed and low cost, or take the time to get every American connected to fiber?
The Federalist Society, as part of its National Lawyer’s Convention, hosted a panel of experts on all sides of the debate. Former FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly presented the case that while well-intentioned, the funding is not going out as intended and is bogged down with conditions from the Biden Administration that have nothing to do with broadband deployment, like climate change assessments. In Commissioner O’Rielly’s estimation, at least 30% of the $42.5 billion in BEAD funding will be wasted, and he encouraged robust congressional oversight of the program. Veneeth Iyengar, who oversees distribution of broadband funding in Louisiana, gave the “boots on the ground” perspective from his state. He reported that a third of Louisianans lack broadband access, noting the importance of access for small businesses to become part of the internet economy. Shirley Bloomfield emphasized the importance of spending the money wisely with proven broadband builders, which means focusing first on the unserved and also taking the opportunity now to invest in forward-looking fiber technology. The panel’s moderator, Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, also added his own perspective on the importance of connectivity and the potential societal effects of being over-connected to the digital world.
Note from the Editor: The Federalist Society takes no positions on particular legal and public policy matters. Any expressions of opinion are those of the author. We welcome responses to the views presented here. To join the debate, please email us at email@example.com.