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ACAC: Treasury Should Not Favor Any Provider in Broadband Subsidies

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ACA Connects is telling the Treasury Department that it should direct the American Rescue Plan block broadband grants — it estimates those will total about $20 billion to $30 billion — to areas without broadband service of at least 25 Megabits per second upstream and 3 Mbps downstream. That‘s currently the FCC‘s minimum for high-speed data. 

But the trade group representing smaller, independent cable operators also said the regulator should not prioritize municipal broadband and co-ops over other providers.

The Treasury Department issued a proposed framework for handing out the money, including proposing that it prioritize buildouts by local governments, nonprofits and co-ops, that new builds should deliver symmetrical 100 Mbps (download and upload) speeds, and that the definition of unserved and underserved should be set at 25/3 Mbps.

In comments to Treasury, ACAC agreed that 25/3 should be the definition of “unserved” areas eligible for the broadband buildout money. It also agreed that those getting the funds should be required to offer 100/100 Mbps, arguing that the government can afford to build to that standard, which would help future-proof the funding. “[F]unding anything less — and then having to fund it again in the near future — is a bad investment,“ it said.

As to prioritizing municipal or nonprofit buildouts — Treasury said those had “less pressure to turn profits and a commitment to serving entire communities” — ACAC was not on the same page. It said Treasury should not put the thumb on the scale for anyone, including the co-ops and municipal systems who are also members of ACAC.

“[W]e know first-hand that all have a deep commitment to serving their entire communities and take a long-term approach to building networks and providing services,” ACAC said. But ACAC was also hedging its bets. It said that if Treasury does prioritize, it should give the highest priority to “any small entity that is an experienced broadband provider.”

ACAC said it would prefer auctions to grants for handing out the money, and that given that there is an adoption as well as an availability problem, for every dollar spent on deployment, at least a third as much should be spent on adoption programs.