Americans for Tax Reform led a coalition with other center-right organizations flagging concerning developments in the infrastructure bill negotiations. Price controls and rate regulation; dramatic expansion of executive brand and agency authority; and government-controlled internet should never be on the table.
You can read the letter below or click HERE for a full version:
July 23, 2021
RE: Broadband Infrastructure Spending
We write to you today over some concerning developments in the bipartisan infrastructure negotiations on broadband. We are guided by the principles of limited government and believe that the flaws in the infrastructure framework go well beyond the issues discussed here. Nonetheless, our present aim is to advocate specifically against proposals that would enact price controls, dramatically expand agency authority, and prioritize government-controlled internet.
The infrastructure plan should not include rate regulation of broadband services. Congress should not authorize any federal or governmental body to set the price of any broadband offering. Even steps that open the door to rate regulation of broadband services will prove harmful in the long run.
Nor should Congress continue to abdicate its oversight responsibilities to executive branch agencies like the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. Giving NTIA unchecked authority to modify or waive requirements, renders all guardrails placed by Congress meaningless. There must be oversight of the programs to ensure that taxpayer dollars go toward connecting more Americans to broadband as opposed to wasteful pet projects.
Historically, attempts by NTIA to close the digital divide through discretionary grants have failed, leading to wasteful overbuilds, corruption, and improper expenditures. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 created the $4 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) grant program administered by NTIA. From 2009, when BTOP was instituted, to 2017, at least one-third of all the reports made by the Inspector General for the Department of Commerce were related to the BTOP program, and census data showed that the BTOP program had no positive effect on broadband adoption. And this was with only $4 billion in taxpayer dollars. We cannot afford to make the same mistake with much greater sums.
Legislation must be clear and not create ambiguities that are left to the whims of regulators. While “digital redlining” is unacceptable, the FCC should not be allowed to define the term however it sees fit and promulgate any regulations it thinks will solve problems—real or imagined. Doing so would give the agency carte blanche to regulate and micromanage broadband in any way it desires. This would be an egregious expansion of FCC authority. Moreover, definitions and regulations could change whenever party control of the agency changes, leading to a back-and-forth that creates uncertainty for consumers and businesses.
Legitimate desire to ensure that low-income Americans have access to broadband infrastructure should not be used as a smokescreen to codify aspects of the recent Executive Order on Competition, which should not be included in any bipartisan infrastructure agreement. Republicans fought hard to support the FCC’s Restoring Internet Freedom Order. Any legislating on the functions and deployment of Internet technologies must move as a standalone bill through regular order with committee review. These questions are far too important to shoehorn into a massive bill without rigorous debate.
Any funding for broadband buildout must target locations without any broadband connection first, and this should be determined by the Congressionally mandated FCC broadband maps. Congress has oversight over the FCC and the FCC has already conducted several reverse auctions. Reverse auctions get the most out of each taxpayer dollar towards closing the digital divide. Areas where there is already a commitment from a carrier to build out a network, should not be considered for grants, and the NTIA should not be able to override the FCC’s map to redefine “unserved” and subsidize duplicative builds.
Government-controlled Internet should not be prioritized in any grant program. With few exceptions, government-owned networks (GONs) have been abject failures. For example, KentuckyWired is a 3,000-mile GON that was sold to taxpayers as a $350 million project that would be complete by spring of 2016. Those projections could not have been more wrong. More than five years past the supposed completion date, fiber construction for KentuckyWired is still “in progress” in some parts of the state and a report from the state auditor has concluded that taxpayers will end up wasting a whopping $1.5 billion on this redundant “government owned network” over its 30-year life. NTIA should certainly not encourage these failures to be replicated.
We appreciate your work to help close the digital divide and agree that access to reliable internet is a priority, however we should not use this need to serve as a cover for unnecessary
government expansion. Please feel free to reach out to any of the undersigned organizations or individuals should you have questions or comments.
* individual signer; organization listed for identification purposes only
Let’s start with the internet.
It has its roots in a program called the ARPANET, which was established by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. Private sector entrepreneurs then transformed the internet from an obscure government experiment into the cultural and economic success that it is today. It has made our technology sector the envy of the world and enables us to keep innovating and competing with the likes of South Korea, Canada, Japan, Switzerland, and China.
This matters in light of President Joe Biden’s recently unveiled American Jobs Plan. While billed as a $2.3 trillion infrastructure plan, less than 10% of allocated funds are actually for traditional infrastructure such as roads, highways, bridges, ports, airports, etc. Instead, Biden redefines infrastructure to include all sorts of things, including research and community colleges, that, while they are possibly meritorious investments, have nothing to do with infrastructure. On broadband internet services, which both parties agree isinfrastructure, Biden’s plan has a stated goal of 100% U.S. connectivity.
One problem: The plan wouldn’t actually help connect more people to the internet.
That’s because it relies on government-run broadband to improve America’s internet experience. Government-run networks have a history of failure. They tend to drive out private investment and leave taxpayers holding the bag when the plans fail — without the better broadband they were promised. A perfect example of how government often stymies innovation and entrepreneurship is found in Kentucky. Kentucky Wired, a $1.5 billion plan to improve connectivity across the state was announced under Gov. Steve Beshear. Andy Beshear, Steve Beshear’s son and the state’s current governor, vowed to complete the project by October 2020. But Kentucky Wired has failed. Lesson: Investing public money in laying cable when increasingly affordable satellite networks are at our doorstep is not only counterproductive but irresponsible.
Biden’s plan ignores the dynamics of the marketplace in a similar manner. It also signals rate regulation and arbitrary speed mandates that would discourage satellite providers such as Amazon and SpaceX (Starlink) from investing in infrastructure and creating new jobs. Instead of bridging the digital divide, Biden would widen it by hampering the free market.
Biden’s plan focuses exclusively on a single technology for providing internet access: fiber. To be clear, fiber is often the backbone of the internet and works well in densely populated areas. Private industry has invested billions in deploying fiber across the country. Yet, laying thousands of miles of fiber optic cable is very expensive. Many factors affect the cost of fiber infrastructure, but, on average, the cost of deploying fiber runs between $18,000 and $22,000 per mile. In rural areas, it is often far too expensive for most businesses to recoup their fiber deployment costs. The good news is that America uses a mix of technologies to get online — from cable and fiber to 5G and NextGen satellites. If Biden chooses not to impose a one-size-fits-all solution, the private sector can meet the challenge of closing the digital divide. But as it now stands, Biden’s plan would stop this competition between technologies. Instead, it would replace that competition with a top-down approach in which government picks the winners and losers rather than letting consumers make the choices.
A better idea would be for Biden to expand Broadband Opportunity Zones and encourage billions in investment where it is needed the most. Private enterprise will invest in solutions that work for underserved areas.
Put simply, Biden’s infrastructure bill is a bad deal for America. It is entirely reasonable to fund the building and maintenance of interstate roads, bridges, ports, and highways. It is also good to incentivize innovation and investment. Sadly, Biden’s bill discourages those imperatives without good cause and at great risk.
For us tail-end baby boomers, it’s probably true our view of what life might be like now was influenced by the “Back to the Future” series. Watching ‘Doc’ Brown and Marty travel just a few decades forward in time to a place where the Cubbies won the World Series, hoverboards were ubiquitous, and sneakers laced themselves seemed so wonderfully realistic we believed it was possible.
To be sure, some of the things depicted in “Back to the Future II” did come to pass. The Cubs did win a World Series – though not in the year predicted in the film. And technology has brought about other changes that, while not exactly like what was seen on screen, come close enough for government work that filmmakers Bob Zemeckis and Stephen Spielberg deserve a pat on the back for the visionary insight into how things might be.
One thing they got wrong was the whole business of flying cars. In the movie, they seemed to be standard transportation. In reality, they are just as tethered to the nation’s highways and byways as ever, with most of the innovations going toward fuel economy and alternative power plants. The idea of the airborne vehicle just never got off the ground.
Innovation, especially in the wireless sector, makes up for some of the disappointment. Surprisingly though, the intersection of communications technology and the automotive industry has not developed in the way people thought it might 20 years ago. That’s when the Federal Communications Commission established technology-specific rules for what it called “Dedicated Short Range Communications” in the 5.9 GHz band, reserving the space to allow cars, as it was put at the time, “to talk to one another” and to develop safety-related technologies.
A worthwhile effort to be sure, but other than a few heavily subsidized pilot projects that seem to hold little promise, there hasn’t been much movement toward the original vision, especially in the area of auto safety. At the same time, automakers have used other parts of the spectrum not reserved for these purposes to produce tremendous advances popular with consumers (like radar) and are using non-spectrum dependent tech like lidar, sensors, and cameras. Moreover, new auto communications technologies like CV2X want to access the 5.9 GHz band but can’t under the current rules that allow only for the original DSRC.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, who deserves great credit for keeping adaptations to the Internet from being slowed by bureaucratic impulses, is poised to break the logjam. Rather than allow for the 5.9 GHz band to continue to go unused, he’s apparently ready to engage in rulemaking that would carve off the lower end of the band for additional wireless broadband use, while preserving the upper reaches for future automotive safety needs.
Putting new Wi-Fi in 45 MHz of the 5.9 GHz band will create the country’s first contiguous 160 MHz channel, something that is critical to the deployment of next-generation Wi-Fi 6, which is expected to bring gigabit and high-capacity Wi-Fi to American consumers. The unlicensed spectrum available in this area can be used to support 5G deployment. Cisco reportedly expects 71 percent of 5G mobile data will be offloaded to Wi-Fi by 2022 – meaning current unlicensed spectrum resources will be insufficient to keep up with the changes.
It’s an excellent compromise, one that leaves the door open to future developments while recognizing the need for new broadband spectrum that exists today. In the two decades since the DSRC allocation, Wi-Fi has become a core communications technology relied upon in homes, businesses, factories, airports, and hospitals across the globe. It contributes more than $525 billion to the U.S. economy on an annual basis.
It’s earned the opportunity to expand even further.
By David Harsanyi • The Federalist
In a recent op-ed, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg implored the state to get more involved in governing the internet. “Every day, we make decisions about what speech is harmful, what constitutes political advertising, and how to prevent sophisticated cyberattacks,” he began. “These are important for keeping our community safe. But if we were starting from scratch, we wouldn’t ask companies to make these judgments alone.”
For starters, there’s no such a thing as “harmful speech.” There might be speech that offends us. There might be speech we disagree with. There’s also speech that’s inarguably ugly, dishonest, pornographic or despicable. “We” allow these unpleasant words to go largely unregulated because we value the broader liberty of being able to offer opinions without government censors dictating which thoughts are acceptable.
But if Zuckerberg wants to rid his platform of this “hate speech,” no one is stopping him. Facebook allegedly employs a number of new mechanisms to achieve this very task. Good luck.
But Zuckerberg also claims that “we,” as society, now have a special responsibility to facilitate his efforts to keep people “safe” from reprehensible rhetoric. We have no such obligation. Facebook already offers users the ability to block or Continue reading
December 18th, 2017
The Honorable Robert E. Lighthizer
Office of the U.S. Trade Representative
Executive Office of the President
600 17th Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20006
Dear Ambassador Lighthizer,
“Intellectual property is a driving force in today’s global economy of constant innovation. It is the wellspring of American economic growth and job creation. With the rise of the digital economy, it has become even more critical that we protect intellectual property rights and preserve freedom of contract rather than create regulatory barriers to creativity, growth, and innovation. …We call for strong action by Congress and a new Republican president to enforce intellectual property laws against all infringers, whether foreign or domestic.” Continue reading
by Georgi Boorman • The Federalist
Could you bear to live in a world where parts of the Internet might be bundled and sold to you monthly in the form of subscriptions? Apparently, some people can’t. A representative from California shared this graphic on social media, supposedly to demonstrate how terrible lifting net neutrality would be. To me, it demonstrates the exact opposite.
If you add up the subscriptions, the “no net neutrality” model costs 4 cents less. Continue reading
By Rudy Takala • Washington Examiner
Regulators in Washington are showing increasing interest in tightening rules on political speech on the web, arguing that the dissonant voices enabled by “new media” have become too influential. If that effort is successful, experts wonder whether it could impact more traditional media as well, especially in how it relates to conservatives.
“The best example we can give is going back a few years to when the [Federal Communications Commission] was looking at trying to silence talk radio, which was obviously a realm of conservatism,” said Drew Johnson, executive director of the nonprofit group “Protect Internet Freedom.” He was referring to the agency’s “Fairness Doctrine,” which required broadcasters to grant equal time to opposing political candidates.
Democrats on the Federal Election Commission demonstrated a similar regulatory ambition in February, when they voted unsuccessfully to apply campaign finance laws, which are traditionally intended to govern paid political advertisements, to unpaid political accounts on Twitter. Continue reading
A failed experiment to cut Russia from the World Wide Web stokes fears of Chinese-style online censorship
by Roland Oliphant • The Telegraph
Russia has run large scale experiments to test the feasibility of cutting the country off the World Wide Web, a senior industry executive has claimed.
The tests, which come amid mounting concern about a Kremlin campaign to clamp down on internet freedoms, have been described by experts as preparations for an information blackout in the event of a domestic political crisis.
Andrei Semerikov, general director of a Russian service provider called Er Telecom, said Russia’s ministry of communications and Roskomnadzor, the national internet regulator, ordered communications hubs run by the main Russian internet providers to block traffic to foreign communications channels by using a traffic control system called DPI. Continue reading
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – once an obscure nonprofit that was ostensibly important just to a handful of tech heads – is now mired in controversy as a result of the Obama administration’s announced intention to put an end to the last vestiges of America’s supervision of the Internet.
This formerly innocuous California corporation, created in the late 1990s by the Clinton administration as part of its efforts to transition the Internet toward commercialization, could suddenly become the only body with the authority to prevent countries like China and Russia from gaining control of the Internet. Given the past inconsistencies of its CEO Fadi Chehade, that’s a risky bet at best. Continue reading
To forestall censorship by authoritarian governments, the White House must renew the Icann contract.
By L. Gordon Crovitz • The Wall Street Journal
We’re at the midpoint between the Obama administration’s March announcement that it would end U.S. protection of the open Internet and September 2015, when the change is supposed to happen. During this time, there has been no progress finding an alternative for protecting the Internet from authoritarian governments.
That’s no surprise—except to Obama administration officials who apparently never considered how hard it would be to replace U.S. stewardship. Continue reading
by Paul Bedard • Washington Examiner
In a surprise move late Friday, a key Democrat on the Federal Election Commission called for burdensome new rules on Internet-based campaigning, prompting the Republican chairman to warn that Democrats want to regulate online political sites and even news media like the Drudge Report.
Democratic FEC Vice Chair Ann M. Ravel announced plans to begin the process to win regulations on Internet-based campaigns and videos, currently free from most of the FEC’s rules. “A reexamination of the commission’s approach to the internet and other emerging technologies is long over due,” she said.
The power play followed a deadlocked 3-3 vote on whether an Ohio anti-President Obama Internet campaign featuring two videos violated FEC rules when it did not report its finances or offer a disclosure on the ads. The ads were placed for free on YouTube and were not paid advertising. Continue reading
by Jared Smith
When the United States Government announced its intent to forfeit its historical role of providing oversight for the Internet’s Domain Name System (DNS), it did so prematurely – before ensuring that the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) would be independent and strong with a clearly limited role. The vague conditions of the transition set forth by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) allow room for the process to be potentially subverted by unfriendly governments or intergovernmental organizations with ulterior motives – or neutered by ICANN itself. As the process moves forward, the United States must require that ICANN be able to ensure its ability to maintain the security, stability, resiliency, and openness of the Internet Domain Name System, while meeting the needs and expectations of global customers and partners of the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and supporting a multi-stakeholder model of governance.
Since the establishment of ICANN’s contract with the NTIA to manage the backend functions of the Internet in 1998, the United States Federal Government has repeatedly expressed the desire to privatize oversight of the DNS process. However, the privatization of ICANN’s role has routinely been delayed due to ICANN’s inability to perform its proper functions without the guidance of the NTIA.
Since the late 1990s, Presidential Administrations and Congress have supported the NTIA in its goal of ensuring the Internet’s core functions are controlled by the broad Internet community; the importance of these functions is too great to risk foreign government interference. As the Internet has matured, it has grown in scope and importance. Concerns have been raised regarding the power vacuum the United States’ absence would create. Governments with unfriendly views towards an open Internet – including Russia, China, and even some democracies – have made their intentions and desires to limit critical speech well-known. Were one of these nations able to exert influence over ICANN, they could potentially limit or favor specific domain names based on political affiliations or organization. If a government were successful in limiting free speech on the Internet, it could serve as precedent for limitation of speech and discrimination against minorities in other venues or through mediums. Continue reading
by Peter Roff • Washington Times
That we can see the demonstrations at all has a lot to do with the Internet, itself a tool that global pro-democracy movements have successfully used to make the entire world sit up and take notice of what they are trying to accomplish. Authoritarian leaders like China’s Xi Jinping therefore have an unsurprisingly cautious attitude toward the World Wide Web; they understand its open nature and the free flow of words and video pose a very real and constant threat to their power.
That openness is a direct result of the influence of core American values on Internet governance. The Internet was invented by the United States government, which has turned the management of many of its essential functions over to a California-based nonprofit corporation created for that specific purpose called ICANN – the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. Up to now the U.S. connection has insured the values enshrined in the U.S. Constitution shapes the way it operates. Continue reading
by George Landrith • Townhall
Late one Friday afternoon, the Obama Administration announced its plans to cut the Internet loose from U.S. government oversight, giving control to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), a private corporation created by the U.S. to manage the web. Since then both ICANN and the administration have gone to great pains to explain that the change would have little practical effect, be largely benign, and that the current U.S. role would not be taken over by other governments like China, Russia, Iran, or the European Union. Sadly, however, these assurances are the Internet equivalent of “If you like the health insurance plan you have now, you can keep it. Period.”
Most Americans know the Internet won’t improve if dictators from around the world are given a bigger role in its governance. Many countries — even those not run by dictators — have engaged in censorship, silenced dissent, and selectively shut the Internet down for authoritarian political reasons. Continue reading