We’ve noted a few times now how the 2021 infrastructure bill includes more than $42.5 billion to shore up broadband access. And while a huge chunk of that money will absolutely be going to giant telecom monopolies with a long history of subsidy fraud, a lot of the funding is genuinely going to help fund a parade of broadband expansion projects that simply wouldn’t have been possibly previously.
We’ve also noted how Republicans voted against the infrastructure bill, then have turned immediately around to take credit for the broadband deployments it enables among local constituents. Texas Senator Ted Cruz has been no exception; he’s repeatedly tried to take credit for highway projects only made possible by the infrastructure bill, while simultaneously criticizing the bill’s very existence.
It’s a very “have your cake and eat it too” situation where Republicans get to obstruct progress while simultaneously taking credit for improvements they opposed. After all, who’s going to correct their constituents’ perception in an ocean of partisan propaganda?
Last week, Ted Cruz came out swinging against the underlying broadband subsidy program (the Broadband Equity And Deployment (BEAD) program run by the NTIA) made possible by the infrastructure bill. One of his primary claims is that money is being “wasted” by “overbuilding” broadband into areas already served by giant incumbent monopolies like AT&T and Comcast:
“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.”
But in telecom corruption land, “overbuilding” has generally been code for bringing competition to bear against industry giants. And even then, the BEAD program goes well out of its way to ensure that lion’s share of money will first be going to parts of the country that lack broadband access. This aversion to “overbuilding” is just an aversion to competition, dressed up to sound like adult policymaking.
The NTIA has also tried to prioritize the subsidization of fiber deployments because fiber is inherently more reliable and future proof than technologies like wireless. AT&T and a handful of fixed wireless companies didn’t like that.
The result is a “report” by Cruz that makes up various claims and data points I’d bet a toe was ghost written by industry. Its function is to basically shame government for spending any money on “duplicative or wasteful” competition to monopoly power. Its synopsis does a great job pretending that Republicans like Cruz actually care about telecom subsidy fraud:
“Forty-two billion dollars is more than enough money to deliver broadband to every American. Will it succeed in doing so? In light of these findings, count 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.”
(For what it’s worth, $42 billion isn’t close to enough to shore up U.S. broadband gaps, even under a scenario where the subsidy program was flawless).
If there’s a real problem with BEAD and other federal subsidy programs, it’s that giants like AT&T and Comcast — with long histories of taking taxpayer money for projects they half-complete — will almost certainly nab a disproportionate amount of funding using unreliable maps whose improvement they’ve long opposed. But Cruz doesn’t mention — or care about — that.
Cruz is silent when a Texas-based company like AT&T gets a $42 billion tax break for doing absolutely nothing. He’ll routinely have nothing to say if AT&T is accused of ripping off taxpayers and the nation’s school system. If you’re a modern Republican, taxpayer money set aside for broadband deployment subsidies is only deemed “wasted” if it goes to anybody other than the dominant local telecom monopoly that funds their re-election campaign.
Throwing taxpayer money at the regional telecom monopolies directly responsible for high prices, spotty access, and slow speeds doesn’t fix the real problem of monopoly power and muted competition. Throwing some of that money at things like city-owned utilities, cooperatives, and municipalities building open access, next-generation fiber does challenge those monopolies, which is why guys like Cruz oppose it.
Cruz and the modern GOP support banning your town or city from building better, faster, more affordable fiber networks, even in instances where there are no other options available. The GOP even proposed a nationwide ban on community broadband during the middle of a pandemic that brutally showcased the need for reliable and affordable home internet.
Again, both Texas Senators Cruz and John Cornyn like to take credit for projects only made possible by an infrastructure bill they voted against. Coryn took plenty of heat back in June when he tried to take credit for the $3.3 billion in federal funds being funneled into the Lone Star State (the most of any state) to expand broadband access. Despite voting against it.
Cruz, himself a sort of mindless and terrible work of performance art at this point, wants to simultaneously get credit for the infrastructure bill he voted against, while also putting on a little stage play about being concerned about government waste. But he only really considers taxpayer money wasted if it goes to competitors to Texas companies like AT&T. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.
Republicans are historically terrible on telecom policy, because their primary “policy” always involves mindlessly kissing the ass of companies like AT&T, Verizon, and Comcast. Occasionally they’ll try to pretend their policies go deeper than that, and it’s routinely adorable.