The wireless industry reacted mostly favorably to President Joe Biden’s effort to advance a plan in his first 100 days in office to invest in broadband infrastructure to permanently close the digital divide (see top story).
USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter said the association urged Biden to develop such a plan. “We share the administration’s belief that connectivity for all is a national priority of the highest order, and our members – innovators that have been connecting the country for generations – are ready to go to work with government partners to build the remaining infrastructure to finally and fully connect every home and business in America. Congress now should prioritize affordability and accessibility solutions that are fast and smart and incentivize continued private investment to get the job done.”
“If we have learned anything from the last year, it is that connections matter, broadband matters – and speed and capacity matter,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association. “We need to aim high and invest in efficient and scalable technologies like fiber to meet the needs not only of today’s consumers but also tomorrow’s.”
Wireless Internet Service Providers Association VP Government Affairs Christina Mason believes the digital divide can be closed with:
- more spectrum for small innovators;
- subsidy programs that are truly tech-neutral and leverage providers already in the marketplace;
- nondiscriminatory access to physical infrastructure for small broadband providers; and
- more support to boost digital adoption and inclusion.
“As the plan is considered by Congress, broadband funding should be truly technology-neutral so it gets the most bandwidth to consumers using the most cost-efficient means, which certainly includes 5G,” said Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein. “WIA also appreciates President Biden proposing a $48 billion investment focused on registered apprenticeship, an effective, earn-while-you-learn career training pathway.” WIA is the national sponsor of the Telecommunications Industry Registered Apprenticeship Program.
But there are some doubts. The Internet Innovation Alliance said “it’s unrealistic to think that broadband prices could be artificially lowered, as the plan recommends, to a point that they are affordable for Americans most in need of assistance, while simultaneously leaving service providers with sufficient revenue to build, upgrade and maintain the networks that keep the United States globally competitive.” The IIA believes modernizing the FCC’s Lifeline program would provide adequate subsidies to ensure that those most in need are connected.
Finally, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a think tank for science and technology policy, says the plan goes too far. ITIF Director of Broadband and Spectrum Policy Doug Brake says: “Biden’s broadband infrastructure plan goes overboard and threatens to undermine the system of private competition that successfully serves most of the United States. No doubt, the United States sorely needs subsidies for rural broadband, but this isn’t an area to turn all the dials up to 11. If not properly targeted, such a large investment risks undermining incentives for private capital to invest even where it can do so profitably, which ultimately erodes the engine of innovation for next-generation connectivity.”