“Government Cheese” is free cheese of suspicious quality produced for those on the dole. It is usually rated grade “B” or “C” by the USDA, and therefore unfit to sell at market. It is made from milk that is near to being out-of-date and the result is a very hard, funky cheese of totally unnatural color.
That’s how the Urban Dictionary defines “government cheese,” but it also describes Joe Biden’s government-owned broadband proposal that’s part of an “infrastructure” bill Nancy Pelosi can’t seem to force-feed her own caucus.
That bill proposes $65 billion toward the worthy goal of expanding broadband infrastructure across the nation. Much like Biden’s Afghanistan withdrawal debacle, however, superficial claims of noble purpose conceal deep strategic and tactical defects that would make matters worse, not better.
Most notably, two-thirds of the proposed spending, or $42.5 billion, would go to state and local governments to create government-owned networks. That would in turn crowd out a private broadband sector that continues to perform incredibly well amid difficult circumstances. As former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell rightfully noted, Biden’s government broadband plan is “surprisingly Soviet.”
The issue in question isn’t whether broadband expansion is a worthy goal, because on that question Americans of all political persuasions agree. Rather, the issue is whether government itself should be in the business of operating broadband networks, competing with private investment and creating even more debt for which struggling taxpayers will ultimately be liable. That’s because the history of government-run broadband is one of uninterrupted failure. Both domestically within the U.S. and overseas, public broadband advocates are hard-pressed to identify instances in which public broadband projects have even managed to break even financially.
In contrast, consider how remarkably well the private broadband sector has performed since the Covid pandemic hit.
In 2020, when most people would’ve expected slower speeds and outages as American workers and students suddenly flooded the internet, U.S. broadband speeds actually increased 91%. By way of comparison, Europeans who rely on more heavily regulated and state-run broadband suffered. For example, regulators in Europe actually asked content providers like Netflix to slow their content because of internet service bottlenecks and overload.
Further illustrating private broadband sector’s achievements in recent years, U.S. internet providers built over 46,000 new cell sites in 2019, up from 708 in 2016. Simply put, the U.S. private broadband sector continues to flourish.
In ominous contrast, Biden’s broadband plan, “prioritizes support for broadband networks owned, operated by, or affiliated with local governments, non-profits, and co-operatives.”
The problem is that government broadband networks wouldn’t peacefully coexist alongside private sector broadband. Instead, they would undermine the private sector. Private investors will obviously become less likely to commit their vulnerable resources if the end result is that they must compete directly against government, which not only creates regulations to its own competitive advantage, but which can also access taxpayer dollars to cover failures and suffocate private competition.
That creates an unbalanced playing field and ultimately harms consumers, who end up with fewer choices and inferior performance. And unlike the private sector where failures get penalized, nobody in the labyrinth of government bureaucracy would be held accountable for those failures. When government networks fail, moreover, the same taxpayers whose internet service was undermined by government broadband are forced to pay the cost.
Making matters worse, as Adam Andrzejewski uncovers in Forbes, the Biden Administration continues its habit of employing false premises in pitching its government broadband plan:
Since, the White House claimed, “more than 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure that provides minimally acceptable speeds,” the government now, they argue, needs to step in. But that figure is incorrect. The FCC says in 2020 about 14 million Americans, living in 4.3 million households, didn’t have access to broadband internet with acceptable speeds. And that 4.3 million household number dropped 20% from the previous year’s numbers. While the “digital divide” is still a problem, presumably that divide will continue to shrink without the government’s “help.”
Using false numbers, the Biden Administration thus hopes to impose a government broadband plan that would threaten investment, innovation and employment in our thriving private broadband sector. To advance broadband expansion and sustain continuing advancements, the federal government must instead promote private investment and reduce bureaucratic obstruction.
In its current form, the Biden government broadband plan is just government cheese.