Principles for Broadband Expansion with the American Rescue Plan of 2021
Louisiana’s state and local governments will be receiving approximately $5.18 billion from the federal government because of the American Rescue Plan of 2021. Part of that $5.18 billion is earmarked for water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure projects.
The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted that many rural areas still struggle with broadband internet access. Louisiana policymakers should invest the funds earmarked for broadband efficiently and fiscally responsibly.
The Pelican Center for Technology and Innovation recommends the following five principles for state and local lawmakers when investing in broadband infrastructure though the American Rescue Plan.
- Ensure Adequate Mapping and Focused Funds on Unserved Areas:
As highlighted by the COVID-19 pandemic, rural areas have less broadband access compared to urban areas, but precisely what areas in Louisiana lack broadband is currently unknown. The FCC is currently undertaking mapping to accurately identify which areas across the nation are without access. Funding should be targeted to areas without broadband access rather than areas that are currently served by the market. This means delaying payments until accurate mapping is complete for Louisiana and working with the FCC to ensure they are completed in a timely manner.
- Be Technologically Neutral:
When thinking about broadband infrastructure, many immediately imagine fiber cable going to a home. While fiber is the backbone of our modern networks, running cable to every home in Louisiana is not only financially infeasible, it is also not ideal. Lawmakers should invest in a variety of different technologies to meet the needs of a state as geographically diverse as Louisiana. This could include everything from fixed wireless to wireless towers or satellite internet.
- Laying Fiber with Other Infrastructure Projects:
Last year, Louisiana instituted a simple “dig once” policy through legislation authored by Senator Beth Mizell. When road construction is occurring, private companies can lay fiber cables at the same time, reducing costs around 90 percent. Policymakers must ensure that when sewer and water construction is happening utilizing American rescue plan funding, private industry has the opportunity to lay cable even if it utilizes those same funds. When road construction is occurring utilizing America Rescue Plan funding, similar opportunities should be made available.
- No Investment in Government Owned Networks:
Perhaps the worst possible way to invest in broadband is through the creation of government owned networks. Louisiana already has a prime example of government owned network failure with the city of Lafayette. When Lafayette created their network, not only was the setup incredibly expensive with a low adoption rate from residents, but it was revealed that the utility services had been illegally cross subsidizing the internet service. Governments should rely on private industries with expertise to expand broadband deployment.
- Avoid Creating Complicated and Recurring Grant Programs:
It may be tempting for policymakers to create grants as a funding dispersing method, but grant programs require a government entity to administer them and an expensive process to apply for them. Grants requires costs from both government and private industry while limiting who may be awarded such funding. Policymakers should make sure any system which spends money on broadband infrastructure is as simple as possible to allow a broad variety of applications. Policymakers should also ensure that all spending is only single use rather than setting up recurring grant programs.
For more solutions check out the Pelican Center for Technology and Innovation Policy