Writer’s Note: This is the third and final part of a three-part series about federal dollars paying to expand broadband Internet throughout Georgia. Part One is available here. Part Two is available here.
The feds recently spent hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars in several states, including Georgia, to do what they say private Internet service providers will not — connect rural and unserved areas to high-speed Internet.
And that’s not counting all the money that local and state officials nationwide have dispersed for the same purpose.
Government has the ability to provide high-speed Internet to areas in need. However, experts say just because it can doesn’t mean that it should, considering circumstances the media and the government often do not publicize. For instance, analysts say bureaucrats at the local, state and federal levels have spent — and mismanaged — more taxpayer money than was necessary.
Members of the Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit, the Taxpayers Protection Alliance (TPA) touched upon this in a 2020 report, GON with the Wind: The Failed Promise of Government Owned Networks Across the Country.
“The question is whether the private sector should continue taking the lead in funding and facilitating the deployment of broadband or whether taxpayers should create and fund/subsidize Government Owned Networks (GONs) to do so. Supporters of taxpayer-funded broadband systems claim that governments (i.e. taxpayers) are needed to build these systems because the private sector simply will not,” according to the TPA.
“The truth is that broadband providers have spent more than $1.6 trillion since 1996 to build, upgrade and maintain networks, resulting in a 71% growth in rural broadband. Internet infrastructure is in place to serve 98% of the country, primarily built by telecom companies. This inconvenient truth, however, has not deterred attempts to use taxpayer dollars to fund broadband boondoggles. Reminiscent of the Broadway hit The Music Man, telecom consultants ride into town and promise inexpensive networks that will attract thousands of customers.”
These consultants, the TPA report said, entice local politicians with assurances that often never come to pass. These GONs will never attain the number of subscribers that consultants swear they will. The TPA cited instances of this happening in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Utah, California and Seattle.
DO TOO MANY AMERICANS REALLY LACK HIGH-SPEED INTERNET?
In Georgia, the state’s Department of Community Affairs (DCA) published a map that reveals which areas of the state can and cannot access high-speed broadband.
That map reveals that a vast majority of Peach State residents can already connect.
“Of the approximately 5.3 million locations in the data (i.e., homes, businesses and institutions in Georgia), 4.9 million locations, or 91.5 percent, are served at speeds of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload (25/3) via terrestrial technologies,” said DCA spokesman Ryan Evans, via email, referring to how the FCC defines broadband Internet.
“Of the 454,950 unserved locations, about 90 percent are outside of urban areas.”
Evans said the DCA will update the map on or before July 1 of this year.
As reported, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) most recent National Broadband Map revealed exactly 97.93 percent of the United States has broadband.
TPA spokesman Johnny Kampis called the FCC map “an encouraging sign.”
“There is no reason that the private sector can’t get close to 100 percent connectivity in the United States with the work already done, plus all of this taxpayer money going to it in the next several years,” Kampis said.
“One thing about GONs is that a lot of times they are running fiber alongside existing fiber.”
The FCC’s Affordable Connectivity Program offers monthly discounts on broadband service to more than 14 million low-income households. In January 2023, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) said the program’s performance goals and measures “do not fully align with key attributes of effective performance management.”
“For example, [the] FCC’s goals and measures lack specificity and clearly defined targets, raising questions about how effective these goals and measures will be at helping FCC gauge the program’s achievements and identify improvements,” according to the GAO report.
The FCC also hasn’t done enough to identify and control fraud.
“GAO identified weaknesses in these controls, including potential duplicate subscribers, subscribers allegedly receiving fixed broadband at PO Boxes and commercial mailboxes and subscribers with broadband providers’ retail locations as their primary or mailing addresses,” according to the GAO report.
“Without regular fraud risk assessments, an anti-fraud strategy and sufficient monitoring of controls, FCC may not be able to effectively prevent and detect fraud in this over $14 billion program.”
In May 2022, the GAO identified at least 133 government programs — administered across 15 federal agencies — that offer more broadband access to unserved areas but create “a fragmented, overlapping patchwork of funding.”
“Unplanned and possibly wasteful duplication can occur when separate programs fund deployment in the same area for the same population and purpose,” according to the GAO.
“For example, according to Congressional testimony from one broadband provider, multiple providers received funding from different programs to deploy broadband to the same county in Minnesota.”
Determining whether programs overlap in certain other areas, the GAO said, is difficult. The feds try to coordinate different agencies to deploy broadband, “but no current national strategy exists to provide clear roles, goals, objectives and accountability to agencies or synchronize the numerous interagency coordination efforts.”
Also in January, members of the Washington, D.C.-based Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW) said the private sector had invested $2 trillion into broadband since 1996. The government’s role, CAGW said, “should be supportive rather than obstructive.”
FRANKLY MY DEAR…
Government bureaucrats say they must step in to provide broadband where the private sector will not, but with the current technologies, is the private sector really at fault?
GON with the Wind says no.
In its conclusion, the report said the government restrains private Internet providers from expanding their services to unserved and underserved areas.
“Competition can be encouraged by decreasing regulatory impediments on private internet providers, such as by taking quicker action on permits, leveling the playing field for pole attachments and creating more friendly fee schedules for internet installation projects,” GON with the Wind said.
“Regulatory streamlining can help facilitate more rapid deployment of broadband, better service and more competition.”
The waste, fraud and abuse within the government notwithstanding, can it at least offer a better and longer-lasting product than the private sector?
In GON with the Wind, the TPA said “taxpayer-funded networks may soon be on their way out thanks to the ever-changing technological landscape.”
“As the United States continues deployment of 5G wireless services and cable companies lay more fiber that will bring faster service to customers without taxpayer subsidization, local officials may soon realize that GONs are an unnecessary and inefficient use of households’ hard-earned dollars,” according to the TPA.
Kampis previously said the feds have dispersed almost $400 billion to connect unserved and underserved areas in several states. He also said if governments want to involve themselves in the process, they should partner with the private sector, which is more knowledgeable and resourceful.
“There is not much that is not covered right now. The private sector is working on it. Obviously, there are some rural areas where it’s hard to make a justification in the private sector to build out to those areas,” Kampis said.
“[They have] just a very sparse population, but there are ways to get to them. It may require a little bit of subsidies, but I’m not sure it will require $400 billion. I do worry that there will be a lot of wasted money.”
The Babylon Bee’s Seth Dillon will be the keynote speaker for our upcoming Georgia Freedom Dinner on April 25. You don’t want to miss this! Get your tickets now.