$100B Gov't Broadband Expansion to be Cut Back

John Lister's picture

President Biden has offered to reduce his proposed spending on improving broadband provision by a third. It's an attempt to reach a consensus with political opponents, but the debate seems to be as much about the principle as the sums involved.

Back in March, the White House announced plans for broadband to be a key part of a proposed infrastructure spending program. The idea was to treat it in the same way as water and electricity supplies where public money has at various times paid for extending availability to areas that private providers didn't yet serve.

Budget Cut Would Slow Expansion

The proposals proved controversial from the outset, most notably because the plan would have favored funding networks owned and run by local government and non-profit groups rather than subsidizing private providers to expand their networks to unprofitable areas.

Now officials say Biden's administration is willing to reduce the proposed subsidy spending from $100 billion to $65 billion. That's part of a proposed reduction in the overall infrastructure package following criticism by Republican leadership in Congress. (Source: whitehouse.gov)

According to officials, cutting the broadband spending in the budget wouldn't fundamentally change how the expansion subsidies worked. Instead it would simply mean it took longer for it to reach all parts of the country.

Politicians Debate Principle

Political analysts believe it is unlikely the two main parties will reach an agreement to both support an infrastructure bill, being too far apart on a total budget figure they would both accept. If, as seems likely, the Biden administration tries to pass a bill without opposition support, it's unclear if it will do so with the new proposals or the original figures.

Even if the two sides agreed on the sums involved, the broadband proposals would likely struggle to find bi-partisan and industry-wide support. Many Republican politicians oppose the principle of local governments operating broadband networks.

Meanwhile commercial broadband providers such as AT&T say there's no need to have fiber connections to every home, instead arguing that connections over existing home telephone lines are adequate. (Source: arstechnica.com)

What's Your Opinion?

How much do you think the government will wind up spending on broadband? Do you agree with the principle of public money funding expanded broadband availability? Should high-speed broadband be treated in the same way as electricity, phone and water services where it's expected almost every home should have to option to be connected?

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