Led by Senator Ted Cruz, Republicans on the Senate Commerce Committee released a scathing report Friday that identifies that the Biden administration’s $42.5 billion Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program duplicates a number of other subsidy programs and is a shell game for funding “beachfront communities, mountain wedding venues, and mansions.”
They also called out the administration’s BEAD rules that exclude certain technologies – namely unlicensed fixed wireless and satellite from being considered, noting that “real-world cases where non-fiber technologies have served as reliable and innovative alternatives.”
The report said that according to the FCC’s National Broadband Map, which NTIA used to allocate BEAD funding based on unserved locations, 58 of the 184 unserved locations in D.C. are at the Smithsonian National Zoo, including the Butterfly Garden, Lion-Tiger Hill, and the Otter Pond.
It also called out Delaware as an illustration of the inefficiencies. Delaware was allocated almost $108 million in funding to serve the state’s 2,166 unserved locations, including the Biden Environmental Training Center north of Rehoboth Beach.
Considering other federal broadband monies Delaware already received, the report states the state “should already have more than enough funding to build broadband to all 2,166 currently unserved locations in the state.”
The report is blunt on fiber bias
The report said the administration’s fiber bias would drive up costs and waste taxpayer dollars, primarily if the Biden administration’s implementation of other programs serves as precedent.
They said the administration spent over $200,000 per location for one award in USDA’s ReConnect broadband grant program and, on average, spent $22,000 per location across all ReConnect awards for 2023.
The top two most expensive cost-per-location awards—$236,000 and $191,000—went to companies in New Mexico that will provide fiber broadband service to 135 households for a combined $26 million.
By contrast, Cruz’s report said the Technology Director for the Cuba Independent School District in New Mexico recently testified before Congress that his school district purchased satellite-based broadband for unconnected households, with a reported cost per location of $500, or two percent of the cost of the two recent New Mexico ReConnect projects.
Further, the project reached speeds in excess of BEAD requirements and, according to the Technology Director’s testimony, satellite connections were installed quickly and avoided permitting.
The committee recommended that states with more than adequate funding through various federal sources to expand high-speed Internet should return unused BEAD funding.
“This funding could be reallocated to states that did not get enough to service all their unserved areas or to pay down the federal debt,” the report suggested.
Their second recommendation was the NTIA should “revise BEAD rules so less costly technologies that are capable of meeting the IIJA broadband standard, like satellite and fixed wireless, are subject to a level playing field.”