Republicans Slam Biden Broadband Subsidy Program as Misguided, Wasteful

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) (Image credit: Photo by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee have released a report they said shows that the Biden administration’s $42 billion-plus Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program is duplicative of other subsidy programs and ripe for waste, fraud and abuse, like doling out money to serve unserved locations at the National Zoo or funding “beachfront properties, mountain vacation homes and remote islands.”

The report also claims the program, which gives money to states to spend on broadband buildouts, includes requirements that “drive up overall program costs [and] burn through funding.” BEAD’s goal is to get internet to all Americans by the end of the decade.

On the duplication front, the report says that because the program did not distinguish between unserved locations that needed the money and ones that were technically unserved but about to be served using other broadband funding, over five million unserved locations that were already being funded under other programs got BEAD money.

The report basically lays out the Republican view of broadband subsidies in recommending “fixes” for BEAD. Those include that the money should not be used to overbuild where there is already service and should not be biased in favor of fiber.

Republicans disagree with the BEAD program’s focus on fiber builds, saying that high-speed satellite broadband could be a more cost-effective solution.

The Biden administration favors fiber over wireless for the money, but is allowing for technology flexibility so long as the service meets baseline high-speed and quality standards. The money is being allocated with the aid of the FCC’s updated Broadband Availability Map.

Awards range from $27 million to more than $3.3 billion, with every state receiving a minimum of $107 million.

Also Read: ISP Associations Track Biden’s Broadband Billions

The funding will initially go to deploy and upgrade broadband networks, then of there is any left over it can go to access, adoption or equity-related issues.

The report suggests the funds are being diverted from truly unserved areas to, well, questionable ones.

“According to the FCC’s National Broadband Map,” the report says, “which was used by NTIA [the National Telecommunications & Information Administration] to allocate BEAD funding based on each state’s share of unserved locations, 58 of the 184 unserved locations in D.C. are at the Smithsonian National Zoo, including the Butterfly Garden, Lion-Tiger Hill and the Otter Pond.”

D.C’s share of the BEAD money was a whopping $547,000 per unserved location.

“Forty-two billion dollars is more than enough money to deliver broadband to every American,” Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), ranking member of the Committee in his introduction to the report. “Will it, said succeed in doing so? In light of these findings? [C]ount me skeptical. This report should serve as a call to action for the Biden administration and the states to ensure BEAD dollars are not funneled to duplicative and wasteful purposes, and instead are used to solve the nation’s connectivity challenges once and for all.”

Not surprisingly, the association representing fixed wireless internet providers, whose service to the unserved the Biden Administration did not favor subsidizing, saw the report as "spot on."

"Government policy to close the digital divide is awash in wasteful conflict, which limits its reach and ultimately dooms those who truly lack broadband," said Matt Mandel, VP of government affairs for WISP[Notice of Funding Opportunity], which sends $42 billion to the states for duplicative overbuilding – spending made even more pernicious due to the “Biden administration’s technology bias against non-fiber broadband [which] will drive up costs by billions of dollars and likely deprive some communities of any broadband access at all,” notes the Report. 

WISPA said the Biden Administration should follow the report's recommendation and end its bias against fiber alternatives like the internet service its members provide.

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.