Congress revs up its rural broadband boondoggle
Congress is poised to get the federal government into the rural broadband business in a very big way. Inside the bipartisan infrastructure bill is a proposal to spend tens of billions of dollars wiring the countryside with high speed fiber that will bring the wonder of fast download speeds to the masses.
The problem is, Reason’s Eric Boehm writes, past government forays into internet land have been costly, corrupt failures:
…this $42 billion is likely to end up propping up projects that aren’t necessary and wouldn’t exist without the promise of federal money.
“Municipal broadband is unlikely to scale well to fit U.S. broadband needs,” concluded a pair of researchers at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in a report published in June. “If the goal is to get as many Americans online as possible, policy should prioritize efficient spending and allow for an environment where those most optimized to succeed can compete without unnecessary barriers.”
The report also noted an ideological issue that could disrupt the Biden administration’s plans to use government-run networks to get more Americans online. “The goal of many municipal broadband advocates is not principally getting more broadband to more areas, but rather to reduce the share of broadband that is provided by the private sector,” noted Doug Brake and Alexandra Bruer, the two researchers.
Exactly. Imagine if people complained that too much of the country’s grocery market was controlled by the private sector, and if Congress responded to those complaints by creating a new chain of government-run grocery stores to compete with Giant and Wegman’s. That’s essentially what Congress and the White House, in a bipartisan fashion, have proposed here.
“With few exceptions, government-owned networks (GONs) have been abject failures,” a coalition of pro-market think tanks and advocacy organizations warned in a letter to Congress last week urging a rejection of taxpayer funding for municipal broadband.
But in the name of “doing something,” Congress will spend this money, and a lot more, to do what private industry is already doing (and nevermind those other government programs that have been spending billions every year on rural broadband).