The finish line is in sight. “Internet for All,” as the Biden administration put it, will soon be a reality if America sticks to its priorities.
During his State of the Union address, President Joe Biden set the bar high: “We’re going to buy American,” as the United States spends billions on new broadband connections. It’s a smart strategy to create American jobs and boost the American economy, but our leaders must not sacrifice speed in the race to bridge the digital divide in cases where “Buy American” is not yet an option. realistic.
Reinforced during the pandemic when everyone finally realized that broadband is a necessity, bipartisan cooperation has presented America with a unique opportunity to achieve universal connectivity. To date, more than $90 billion has been appropriated by Congress and the administration to complete the private sector’s job of connecting every American home with broadband Internet service.
During this sprint towards “Internet for All”, American leaders must avoid creating obstacles that will delay progress.
Under the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program, for example, each participating state — plus Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia — will receive a minimum of $100 million for the Internet infrastructure, with more to do. based on the proportional number of unserved locations in each state. Cartesian estimates that fiber providers will contribute an additional $22 billion in funding for a total of $64 billion, which is “enough to meet the program’s availability goal of ‘making broadband service’ available in all eligible locations”. It’s a first.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), signed into law by President Biden on November 15, 2021, also included $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which has helped more than 17 million American families to pay for a broadband connection at home that they would otherwise have. struggle to afford. Additionally, the bill sets aside $2.75 billion for digital equity programs; $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity program; $2 billion for the Rural Utilities Distance Learning, Telemedicine and Broadband Program; and $1 billion for a new Middle Mile grant program. It truly is broadband time in the sun.
During this sprint towards “Internet for All”, American leaders must avoid creating obstacles that will delay progress. Every American deserves the chance “to attend classes, start a small business, see their doctor, and participate in the modern economy.”
The Build America Buy America Act, which was enacted under the IIJA, requires infrastructure projects (including Internet infrastructure funded by the BEAD program) to use materials of domestic origin. But broadband networks are complex; they are more than just fiber optic cables. Some critical pieces of the puzzle, such as some electronics, are currently not made in America, and the components that make up those products are not available in the United States.
We should always do our best to honor President Biden’s goal to “buy American,” but not at the expense of leaving Americans offline while waiting for every switch, router, and radio to be made in the United States. After all, the Government Accountability Office recently estimated that the BEAD program alone could create 23,000 jobs for skilled telecommunications workers… just to build the infrastructure. Spending will primarily go to US paychecks and balance sheets, although we have to rely on foreign manufacturers for a limited number of network components.
US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo recently announced that CommScope and Corning are investing nearly $550 million and creating hundreds of new jobs in America to build fiber optic cables. Although the Obama administration provided a blanket “Buy American” waiver for computer products in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA), recognizing that the United States’ share of the world’s production of computers and electronics had fallen by 8.2 percentage points between 1999 and 2009, the Biden administration is right to seek a balanced solution, maximizing US production where possible while allowing some network components to be sourced from the outside our borders if necessary.
There are so many good things happening to bridge the digital divide, including the Federal Communications Commission which recently dedicated $66 million to Affordable Broadband Awareness Grants. Let’s not lose this momentum. Let’s not sacrifice the great for the perfect.
It’s time for the Biden administration to guard against the unintended consequences of the “Buy American” ideal and to keep an eye on the price: Everyone in America – including communities of color, rural communities and Older Americans – needs broadband now.