GOP: Broadband Money Must Go to Unserved

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Republicans are pushing back on the Biden administration‘s expansive definition of the digital divide where billions of new broadband subsidy dollars can be spent.

The National Telecommunications & Information Administration is overseeing the distribution of the lion‘s share (about $48 billion) of $65 billion in the Biden bill's infrastructure broadband buildout money and has signaled that not only speed but price and quality of service will be part of the definition of where the money can go.

It sought input on how to hand out the money Republicans definitely had some.

Also: NTIA Advised to Let All Broadband Tech Flowers Bloom

In a letter to newly minted NTIA chief Alan Davidson, more than a dozen and a half Republican senators led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.), said the money needs to be targeted to rural areas not currently served by broadband, not to areas that already have “reliable broadband infrastructure” or where ISPs have already committed to provide service using other government broadband subsidy programs, like the FCC‘s Universal Service Fund or the Department of Agriculture‘s subsidy programs for closing the rural digital divide.

“NTIA has an opportunity to make substantial impact on connecting rural America,” they wrote. “However, doing so will require that your agency outline rules that specifically prohibit overbuilding and that set clear criteria to ensure projects targeted at unserved areas are actually prioritized.”

Also: House GOP Leaders Seek NTIA Oversight Hearing

To do otherwise, they argued, “wastes federal funds on areas that do not need it, but also suppresses future deployment in communities in need of opportunities today.“

The Republicans are fighting an uphill battle. The Biden administration from the outset has made it clear that the affordability divide is part of the digital divide that money can help close.

Others signing on to the letter included Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.), Thom Tillis (N.C.), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and John Kennedy (La.). ■

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.