Friday, February 10, 2023

New Report Puts a $60B Price Tag on NTIA's Fiber-Broadband Bias

A just-released study commissioned by the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) finds that the National Information & Telecommunications Association's (NTIA) departure from the concept of technological neutrality could increase the cost to extend broadband connectivity to those (largely rural) locations as yet unserved by as much as $60 billion.

"Getting to the Broadband Future Efficiently with BEAD Funding," a white paper by MIT's Dr. William Lehr, concludes that:

Ignoring wireless ISPs that use unlicensed spectrum increases the number of unserved locations by over 1.922 million locations, or by almost a third. Those locations are concentrated in rural locations where deploying [Fiber-to-the-Premises (FTTP)] is extremely costly and much more costly than for fixed wireless alternatives. Requiring that those locations be served by FTTP instead of lower-cost alternative technologies could increase costs by upwards of $30 to $60 billion depending on the distribution of fiber deployment costs for the unserved locations.

Free State Foundation scholars write regularly about the importance of technological neutrality. For example, in his response to Senator John Thune's December 2022 broadband oversight letter, FSF President Randolph J. May pointed out that "[t]he value of a technology-neutral approach to government-subsidy eligibility is that it maximizes the pool of potential applicants. Just as additional entrants in a competitive marketplace can generate greater efficiency, better quality, increased innovation, and lower prices, so, too, can additional applicants make the best use of grant money."

Consequently, Mr. May criticized NTIA's rules for the $42.45 Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program because they (1) "embody a blind preference for fiber broadband networks," and (2) "exclude by name proven solutions – specifically, satellite-based services and offerings that rely exclusively upon unlicensed spectrum – despite their potential ability in some circumstances to deliver 'broadband' … most efficiently to a specific area."

And in "Senators Urge NTIA to Acknowledge Role of Broadband via Unlicensed Spectrum," a December 2022 post to the FSF Blog describing a letter from seven Republican Senators urging NTIA Administrator Alan Davidson "to continue working to advance broadband deployment in rural states and unserved areas by remaining technology neutral and creating rules and funding opportunities that allow all forms of broadband technology to compete," I explained that:

With respect to any given location, its unique features (population density, geographic features, and so on) can favor certain different distribution platforms –including fiber, cable, DSL, 5G, satellite, and fixed wireless – over others. Such factors influence investment choices in the competitive broadband marketplace, and government-led efforts to extend broadband infrastructure to areas still unserved ought to encourage similarly efficient and informed decisionmaking by subsidy recipients.