November 7, 2023

Limited GovernmentPolicy

Biden’s Climate Obsession is Hurting Broadband Deployment

By: Caleb Larson

As the richest and most powerful country on Earth, America should be able to improve its infrastructure without needlessly complicating things. Unfortunately, the Biden administration seems incapable of such a simple task. Instead of focusing on ways to successfully roll out broadband to American citizens and businesses, this administration is determined to shoehorn a climate change agenda into a completely unrelated government effort while ignoring the vital role that pioneering companies should be playing in providing internet connectivity through modern technologies.

“Climate change has to do with everything.” That is how Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo responded during her testimony before the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee when asked by Sen. Eric Schmitt (R-MO) what climate change had to do with broadband. The senator was referencing the Biden Administration’s implementation plans for the Chips and Science Act that require participating organizations to consider the risks of the changing climate.

Secretary Raimondo justifies the requirements by claiming the administration is being a good steward of taxpayer money by addressing climate events that would prevent “successful” projects. She begins to support the claim after being pressed by Sen. Schmitt, but seemingly starts to realize the faulty argument: “I’ll give you a great example, well no, for example, Senator, I talk to people all the time … who tell me that due to climate events, their current technology doesn’t work, like they don’t have the internet when there’s a storm.”

Focusing on weather events like storms rather than eliminating waste and procuring cutting edge technology is foolish particularly because climate alarmism is unfounded. The research of environmentalist Michael Shellenberger reveals that climate change is not going to lead to a mass extinction event, nor is it making storms worse. In reality, natural disasters such as fires have actually decreased alongside the amount of land used for food production. Climate change awareness should not be baked into every single governmental decision because the need for such awareness is not borne out by the facts. More likely, the focus on climate change in broadband deployment is a reinforcement mechanism for the narrative that the administration is trying to push.

Efforts should instead be made to eliminate government waste in broadband access expansion. In a Federalist Society panel on federal funding for broadband, Former FCC Commissioner Mike O’Rielly estimated that waste would make up 30% of Broadband Equity Access and Deployment program spending. Instead of coming up with more ways to convolute the process of connecting Americans, such as climate change assessments, the Biden administration should look at directing resources to solve actual problems. The issue of utility pole replacement should warrant much more of their attention. Utility companies can inhibit broadband deployment by requiring the replacement of their utility poles when broadband companies intend to attach equipment to them. Pole replacement can absorb up to 25% of the total project cost and is often an unnecessary step imposed by competitors.

Broadband deployment should also be agile. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) reversal on its previous decision to award part of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to Starlink was a mistake that will impact almost 650,000 Americans in 35 different states. The agency’s reasoning was that it “cannot afford to subsidize ventures that are not delivering the promised speeds or are not likely to meet program requirements.” FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr rightly contested the reversal by pointing out the lack of a viable alternative and that the concerns raised around price and speed are “arbitrary.” He states that the FCC “should correct course, adopt a technology neutral approach, and in doing so ensure that [it] prioritize the needs of Americans that remain unserved today.” Instead of investigating Elon Musk and his companies for ideological and political reasons, the Biden administration should be calling on the FCC to work with Starlink to propel America forward into the Internet age.

Unfortunately, the Biden administration is too busy wasting time, money, and energy on pushing its climate agenda to focus on properly connecting all Americans and their businesses to the Internet. Government funding has a special purpose for taking on important societal challenges when private capital is unable to justify costly expenditures. However, it requires sound decision makers in government positions to avoid waste and inflexibility that too easily crops up in public projects. America has been blessed with unparalleled technological innovation and domestic productivity that has helped it achieve monumental feats in the past. It is a mark of shame that the Biden administration’s personal pet projects are now prohibiting it from accomplishing something as simple as reliably connecting underserved Americans to the Internet.