As Congress considers an almost trillion-dollar coronavirus-related stimulus bill, former FCC General Counsel John Sallet said it should include funding for "a lasting broadband future," one that the country leans into with high-speed service "robust enough to withstand the challenges and seize the opportunities of this new, and already frighteningly novel, decade."
Sallet, who was FCC general counsel under FCC chairman Tom Wheeler, is currently a senior fellow at the Benton Institute. He made the pitch for broadband stimulus in a web piece marking the 10th anniversary this week of the FCC's National Broadband Plan. Benton was planning an event to look forward from that anniversary, and instead his having some of the speakers weigh in on its website.
"Our first priorities are our people and our economy," Sallet wrote. "But this is also our broadband moment....Where I live, as in so many other places, the neighborhood has created a COVID-19 support group, organized and reaching people, of course, by email," he wrote.
"With our newfound challenges at hand, we need federal funds to begin flowing for faster deployment," he said, pointing to the need for connections to schools, hospitals, workplaces, and entertainment sites that provide relief from the daily stress.
"The new challenge is to reach all of America with High-Performance Broadband," he wrote. "Federal funds will be flowing for deployment – perhaps even faster as part of stimulus or economic-recovery legislation. But it is critical that money to build new networks be well-spent on connections that will stand the test of time."
Sallet said stimulus legislation should preempt laws that prevent cities from experimenting with different private-public collaborations on broadband and "broadband choices." ISPs have long complained of government money spent to overbuild existing plant.
Legislation should ensure that funding also goes to "open access, middle-mile networks," he said, and adds that "federally subsidized connections, as to schools and libraries, can be expanded to nearby neighborhoods without any charge to the relevant federal program."