Presidential Candidate’s Broadband Platforms

White HouseThe political season is upon us and I noticed that Hillary Clinton issued an infrastructure plan that includes making significant investments in broadband. I guess like is true for most industries, people like me that try to track a given industry are always interested in what potential presidents might have in store for us. Here are the key points of her broadband platform:

  • “By 2020, 100% of households in America will have the option of affordable broadband that delivers speeds sufficient to meet families’ need.”
  • Create a $25 billion Infrastructure Bank that will offer grants to communities for broadband and for other purposes to jumpstart community-initiated broadband projects.
  • Reduce regulatory barriers to the private provision of broadband.
  • Promote policies like ‘dig once’ that will provide more broadband infrastructure.
  • Develop public-private partnerships for broadband.
  • Connect more anchor institutions to high-speed Internet.
  • Deploy 5G wireless and next generation wireless systems.
  • Reallocate and repurpose spectrum for broadband.
  • Foster a civic Internet of Things to foster broadband deployment.

That’s quite a wish list and it’s the most detailed list of broadband goals that I recall ever seeing from a candidate before. Both Barack Obama and George W. Bush had platforms that included expanding access to broadband, but they were far less specific than this. Here are my reactions to the platform:

  • The goal of getting broadband to everybody by 2020 is a silly political goal. If the programs were already in place today to somehow pay for this it would still take a lot longer than that to deploy adequate broadband to everybody. And this raises the issue of what ‘affordable broadband that delivers speeds that meets families’ needs’ means. I would think at the federal level that they believe that is what CAF II is doing, although most of us in the industry understand this to be a boondoggle that will deliver speeds that will be obsolete before they are installed. And even after CAF II is built there will be a lot of places in rural America (and urban America) that won’t meet this goal.
  • Putting federal dollars into programs that can seed broadband expansion is something that we know can work. Just look at the DEED grants in Minnesota to see how the $65 million in grants there since the start of the program have seeded numerous rural broadband projects. I see many broadband projects that can’t find funding, and many of those projects could get a great jump-start with some seed money from a federal source. One always has to worry with federal funding that taking the money isn’t too expensive – for example, a huge amount of money was wasted by the BTOP rule that all projects had to pay urban labor rates for construction. And since this infrastructure bank will be doing more than just broadband, we’d have to see how much money would actually be available. But any federal money is going to help.
  • It would be interesting to see how regulations could be improved for broadband. The FCC is now in the process of regulating broadband for the first time, but the regulations that make it hard to build fiber are mostly at the state and local level.
  • I’ve commented in the past how most ‘dig once’ plans are often a waste of time. Conduit that is built without the necessary handholes and other access points is nearly worthless for serving neighborhoods with fiber.
  • I sit here and wonder what the federal government could do to promote public-private partnerships and I come up empty. I’m a big fan of PPPs, but I also know the challenges of putting together a good partnership and it doesn’t seem like the sort of things that federal rules could make easier or better.
  • I worry about including 5G as a broadband plan. I guess anybody who reads my blog knows I think fiber is always going to be the ultimate technology. Even if we migrate to wireless drops there will need to be fiber deep in neighborhoods and close to homes.

Overall this is not a bad list. It’s certainly more ambitious than anything we’ve seen before. The most promising thing on the list are the grants to promote broadband. Those might do more good than the rest of the list to get a lot more fiber projects under shovel.

Donald Trump has not put out any specific goals for broadband. But he said in a few speeches that he’s in favor of putting as much as a trillion dollars into infrastructure. If more details become available I will try to compare both plans.

Of course, as history has shown us, having something in a presidential platform is no guarantee that it will ever come to pass – but it is a set of goals. But first, the candidate has to get elected and after that there are a lot of politics that include Congress and the FCC that are necessary before most of these goals can ever become realized.

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