In an FCC blog post issued Wednesday, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly spoke of the pitfalls of recent proposals on Capitol Hill to commit up to $20 billion in federal funds for the expansion of broadband infrastructure, as he advised lawmakers that “the last thing consumers or businesses need is an encore of the market distortions caused by the last Federal government economic stimulus effort.” 

Responding to pledges made by President Trump to commit up to $1 trillion in federal funding to overhaul the nation’s bridges, roads, utilities and other critical infrastructure, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) unveiled a Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure on January 23 which would allocate $20 billion for the expansion of wireline and wireless broadband network facilities in unserved and underserved rural areas. Over the past week, the proposal has been endorsed by members of the bipartisan Senate Broadband and House Rural Broadband caucuses who have termed the inclusion of broadband in the president’s infrastructure funding proposal as top priority.

While voicing support for “sound telecom policy provisions that promote infrastructure buildout,” O’Rielly hinted at unwanted regulatory and other consequences that could come with federal investment in broadband, arguing: “if new government money has to be included for broadband, it should be done in a way that does not harm competition in the marketplace, prevents bureaucrats from picking winners and losers, is technology agnostic . . . and does not undermine the FCC’s universal service high-cost program.” Instead of pouring funds into new, government-sponsored broadband projects, O’Rielly suggested that additional federal funding “should be directed into the Commission’s high-cost subsidy program” which can be “extended quickly with existing agency personnel, resources and oversight.” Warning that establishment of new broadband programs “within other agencies would require rebuilding . . . infrastructure and accountability, adding time and expense,” O’Rielly declared that an increase in the FCC’s universal service fund allocation “with other resources would allow greater broadband expansion in a timely and more cost efficient manner.”

Asserting, “our broadband policy has been and should continue to be based on private sector companies continuing to build out their networks to meet consumer needs,” O’Rielly proclaimed, “the surest way to continue the current trajectory of progress is to remove barriers to entry for new technologies or deployment.” As he cited 2015 FCC data indicating that 90% of Americans have access to broadband services at minimum download speeds of 25 Mbps, O’Reilly recommended: “we should redouble our efforts to build out to areas without service or lacking sufficient service today through marketbased mechanisms.”