Biden Cuts $35 Billion From New Broadband Plan To Appease The GOP
from the good-luck-with-all-that dept
As we’ve been noting, there’s a long runway between the Biden Administration’s vague but promising broadband plan and actual implementation. And there’s millions of dollars and literally thousands of lobbyists hard at work trying to make sure that the plan, whatever it winds up looking like, doesn’t disrupt the comfortable, status quo that is the regionally-monopolized and dysfunctional US broadband market.
I’ve already seen some evidence said lobbyists have had some success weakening plan language that would limit the amount of “overbuilding” (read: competition) to existing monopolized markets. 83 million Americans live under a broadband monopoly, and incumbent giants AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast want any and all spending focused exclusively on giving them subsidies for unserved areas, instead of building out vibrant competition in their existing footprints.
Activists are also growing annoyed with the fact that the Biden administration still hasn’t fully staffed the FCC and appointed a new permanent boss, without which the agency can’t reverse the net neutrality repeal, or most of the Trump FCC’s butchering of the agency’s consumer protection authority. Giving the Canadian Ambassadorship to a a top Comcast lobbyist appears to be happening at a quicker cadence.
Meanwhile, the Biden plan overall is already starting to shrink as his administration tries to get the 10 GOP voted needed to nab a 60 vote majority. As a result, the $100 billion plan is officially now a $65 billion plan, and shrinking:
“The White House informed Republicans of Biden’s willingness to cut $35 billion from his broadband proposal in a memo on Friday. “We believe we can still achieve universal access to affordable high-speed Internet at your lower funding level, though it will take longer,” the White House told Republicans, according to NPR. “Any funding agreement would need to be paired with reforms to ensure these investments create good jobs, promote greater competition, and close the digital divide.”
Even with cuts there’s still no evidence that the GOP is going to get on board.
While there are plenty of Democrats in close allegiance to the telecom sector, the modern GOP broadband platform as a whole is utterly indistinguishable from the goals of AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast in every respect. They oppose any meaningful oversight (be it net neutrality or privacy), oppose voter-approved community broadband, support absolutely every merger that comes down the road regardless of harm, and despite talking a lot about their breathless dedication to closing the digital divide, can rarely even admit that a lack of broadband competition and high consumer prices are real problems.
It’s very unlikely that a party whose positions are utterly indistinguishable from telecom monopolists are going to bend on any of this, something Senator Ed Markey has been quick to make clear:
“Despite President Biden?s efforts to engage with Republicans, they have shown no willingness whatsoever to negotiate in good faith with Democrats to confront the intersecting crises we face. We need to make the investments now to help our country and communities rebuild and recover, as well to ensure that we never return to the status quo that left too many Americans behind and created the worsening climate crisis. Now is the time to go big, to go bold, and to go fast. This is not the time for half-measures, half-spending or foot-dragging.”
Despite having broad public support (58% of voters support passing the entire infrastructure bill without GOP support), it seems extremely unlikely a broadband bill gets the necessary 60 votes unless it’s butchered to the point of uselessness, which under-delivers and undermines the Democrat chances of re-election in 2022 and 2024 (another major reason for GOP opposition). That leaves killing the filibuster, or shoveling an infrastructure bill through via reconciliation rules, the former of which seems unlikely, and the latter of which is far from a given.