By Rich Sill
Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo testified at a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing on April 27th regarding the budget for broadband deployment and domestic semiconductor production. At the meeting, she informed committee members of the Biden Administration’s commitment to prioritizing broadband deployment to unserved areas and increasing investment into domestic chip production.
Broadband deployment was a major subject of Secretary Raimondo’s testimony. As part of the Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act, nearly $50 billion is allocated to the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program to deploy broadband to rural and unserved areas. Secretary Raimondo stated that for the BEAD program to be successful, Congress needs to encourage participation from all types of broadband providers for the program to be successful. She continued by claiming protecting taxpayers is the program’s top priority and most red tape preventing people from getting access comes from state and local governments. Because of this, it is the responsibility of the federal government to step in and speed things up.
One common issue is when government bureaucrats allocate money to areas that already have broadband, leading to overbuilding and unserved areas still not getting broadband. In light of this, Senator Deborah Fischer (R-NE) stated that the focus of any broadband deployment funding from Congress must be toward rural and unserved areas. She then asked Secretary Raimondo if the Commerce Department is committed to serving unserved areas first, to which Raimondo assured that they were and there would be no overbuilding or rate regulation. Senator John Thune (R-SD) stated that any inclusion of burdensome requirements such as net neutrality, wholesale access, or rate regulation will only discourage broadband providers from participating in the BEAD program. Without the participation of broadband providers, any and all of the government’s plans would be doomed to fail.
Another major topic of the hearing was how the Commerce Department planned to allocate billions of dollars toward broadband deployment and increase domestic. semiconductor manufacturing. According to Secretary Raimondo, the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 (USICA) would allocate $275 million towards investing in domestic manufacturing. With the demand for semiconductors increasing by 20 percent over the past decade, it is important that the federal government makes the necessary moves for companies to invest in domestic chip production and make the United States more economically secure. During the hearing, Secretary Raimondo stated that the country is merely treading water on the semiconductor issue but creating a robust supply chain oversight system by the federal government would get the United States ahead of the game.
As federal agencies work to approve funds for different broadband projects across the country, it is important that there is efficient coordination between all stakeholders and accurate maps to make sure unserved areas get the broadband they need. If they fail to do this, then tax dollars would be wasted on overbuilding and millions would still lack broadband. Digital Liberty submitted comments to the NTIA’s BEAD proceeding outlining various methods for avoiding waste, fraud, and abuse (that was rampant in the BTOP program), and guidance for making the program successful in achieving universal service.
The Senate passed the USICA Act last year, so once it is passed by the House of Representatives and President Biden signs it into law, it is up to the federal government to make sure all chip money goes toward investment and increased production. No matter how much money the government says it will allocate towards solving problems, it must always make sure the money goes to the right places and those problems are solved.