NCTA's Powell: Biden's Infrastructure Plan Risks 'Serious' Wrong Turn

Michael Powell
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Michael Powell, president of NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, is not happy with the Biden infrastructure plan's focus on subsidizing government-built broadband networks or potentially regulating the prices of private ones. He suggested the Biden has misdiagnosed the problem--which is getting broadband to where it isn't--and its remedy would roll back decades of successes.

Also Read: Biden Plan Pledges Universal Broadband By Decade's End

ISPs have long pushed for limits on government broadband buildouts that can wind up overbuilding existing service or end up with networks that can't support ongoing operations, leaving taxpayers to pick up the slack.

President Biden's just-announced, multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure plan includes $100 billion for universal, high-speed broadband subsidies targeted to cities and nonprofits combined with an effort to reduce the price of "overpriced" service from commercial ISPs, though just how that would happen is not clear.

In responding to the plan, Powell, former chairman of the FCC and a proponent of closing the digital divide as well, said that while the White House has elected to go big with broadband infrastructure, it was risking making a big "wrong turn" by "discarding decades of successful policy," which is subsidizing hard-to-reach and low-income residents so ISPs can continue to make the money that allows them to invest in build-outs and upgrades.

He said the Biden plan suggests that "the government is better suited than private-sector technologists to build and operate the internet."

Part of the problem, he said, is "mistakenly lumping in our successful modern digital networks with our decaying roads, bridges, waterways and electric grids." Powell has pointed out before that while infrastructure spending is mostly about fixing broken things, broadband networks aren't broken, but instead are continually upgraded.

"While we have seen repeated examples of traditional infrastructure failures in recent years, America’s broadband has been a reliable workhorse as millions of Americans have worked, learned and stayed connected from home during the pandemic," he said in a statement. "Simply put, the high caliber of our broadband networks kept millions of Americans safe and will continue to revolutionize work, healthcare, education and more."

Also Read: Powell on Broadband Subsidies: Spend Smart

Powell said government is needed get service where it is lacking, but that goal is not served by suggesting, without foundation, that the network is "ailing" or that the solution is to favor government-owned networks, micromanage private ones, or regulate prices, adding: "As every doctor knows, the crucial step to prescribing the right remedy is to make the right diagnosis."

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.