Broadband Billions Shouldn't Be Tied to Net Neutrality, GOP Tells NTIA

A stack of money
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Senate and House Republicans have advised the Biden Administration not to put any network neutrality conditions on the tens of billions of dollars in broadband subsidies being overseen by the National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), the President's chief communications policy adviser.

They also don't want NTIA to favor any particular broadband delivery system.

That is according to a letter to NTIA administrator Alan Davidson from the ranking members of the Senate Commerce and House Energy & Commerce Committees, which have principal jurisdiction over broadband issues, outlining their priorities for broadband subsidies in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).

While the Democrats still control the House and Senate and so trump Republicans' broadband deployment wish list for the moment, the midterms could conceivably flip that script.

Also: White House Issues State Guide to Broadband Billions

Those Republican priorities are: 1) use the FCC's new and improved broadband maps when it produces them, rather than use other data sources as a substitute; 2) avoid overbuilding, 3) "provide an equal opportunity for all broadband providers to compete for grants by not prioritizing municipal networks or networks run by nonprofits or cooperatives, and not favoring certain broadband technologies over others" (fiber is a Biden Administration favorite, for example); 4) avoid what they call "unnecessary requirements," which include net neutrality, "burdensome" labor regulations and rate regulation; and 5) allow public input and review of agency decisions.

Among the NTIA's stated priorities are affordable, equitable and high quality broadband service for all.

Congress provided $65 billion in the IIJA for broadband infrastructure. NTIA is overseeing $48.2 billion of that, mostly going to states via the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program.

Republican leaders have conceded that NTIA will have to put some conditions on broadband providers receiving the money to make sure they have the financial and technical capacity to deliver on their promises. But they also have said that putting net neutrality or other "unnecessary" requirements on them would "go beyond the scope of congressional intent, could raise the monthly cost of broadband service, and could discourage participation from providers, undermining the success of the BEAD program and harming consumers."

Instead, they said, NTIA should work with states to reduce regulatory "burdens." And while they said affordability is also an important factor, that can be achieved through the current requirement that BEAD recipients offer a low-cost option and not through some form of rate regulation. While NTIA is prevented by law from directly regulating rates, it could make state regulation a condition and Republicans said that should not happen. Nor should NTIA use its authority to approve -- or reject -- a low-cost option as indirect rate regulation. ▪️

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.