In June 2023, the White House allocated $42.45 billion across all 50 states and U.S. territories to ensure universal access to high-speed broadband by the year 2030. According to Biden, the funds were intended to deliver high-speed internet to areas with no service or slow service.
The funding, known as the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment Program (BEAD), was part of Biden’s monstrous $1 trillion infrastructure law passed in 2021. At the time, it was reported that the distribution of funds relied on a coverage map from the Federal Communications Commission, highlighting areas with limited broadband access.
Relying heavily on FCC data for such a substantial investment has sparked controversy. Some members of Congress raised concerns with FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel, pointing out inaccuracies that could disproportionately affect rural states in terms of funding allocation. Additionally, state broadband officials were apprehensive about the tight timeline to rectify discrepancies in the initial map.
A second version of the map was made available at the end of May and incorporated updates such as the addition of 1 million locations, improved data from internet service providers, and the outcomes of over 3 million public challenges.
But Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has recently released a report revealing that the funds, allocated blindly and without oversight, are being given to affluent states and cities, including areas that have beach-front properties valued at millions of dollars.
Every state in the United States, including Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, received a base allotment of $100 million, while the remaining territories were granted a minimum of $25 million each. The top recipients of funding were Texas, with $3.3 billion, and California, with $1.9 billion.
However, the distribution of funds has raised questions, particularly in states with fewer areas lacking broadband service.
In Washington D.C., for example, a report revealed that out of the 184 locations without broadband internet access, 58 of them are concentrated within the Smithsonian National Zoo. This includes popular attractions like the Butterfly Garden, Lion-Tiger Hill, and the Otter Pond.
Another questionable distribution occurred in Biden’s home state of Delaware when the state received nearly $108 million in June to address 2,166 unserved locations. Among these unserved locations is the Biden Environmental Training Center, situated just 11 miles north of Rehoboth Beach.
Washington, D.C., and Delaware, despite their small size and high population density, were allocated over $547,000 and $52,000, respectively, for each location without broadband access. This starkly contrasts with the national median allocation for areas lacking connectivity, which averages $5,600 per location.
Cruz, who chairs the Senate Commerce Committee, expressed concerns about this allocation, stating that providing substantial funding to Washington, D.C., which appears to have almost no unserved locations, diverts funds from genuinely underserved areas across the country. Additionally, he observes that the program did not consider whether locations would soon receive funding from other federal programs already in progress, resulting in redundant funding for more than five million locations.
Further adding to the expense is the federal government’s preference in fiber broadband, a technology known for its high-speed capabilities but also its significant cost. This bias could potentially drive up costs and lead to the wasteful use of taxpayer dollars.
The fund allocation did not consider that different regions may require alternative internet technologies. The report cited Tuckernuck Island in Massachusetts, where property values exceed $1 million. While the island lacks wired internet, it does have access to fast satellite internet, meeting the speed requirements set by Congress for funding, according to the FCC.
“BEAD’s lack of consideration as to whether an unserved location truly needs taxpayer subsidies means that locations like Tuckernuck will be prioritized to receive expensive fiber service,” Cruz stated in the report.
The report went on to note that some of the “unserved’ locations” that will receive taxpayer-subsidized BEAD funds include mansions, beachfront resort communities, and mountain vacation homes.
Cruz criticized the $42 billion broadband initiative as another example of wasteful government spending. He argued that while addressing connectivity issues is important, taxpayer funds should not be used to bridge the “digital divide” in places like the “National Zoo or beachfront vacation homes in Nantucket.” Cruz emphasized that the report, which will be forwarded to the White House, should serve as a “call to action” for the Biden administration to assess areas with potentially redundant and inefficient spending.
Labeling a place as “rural” doesn’t necessarily imply financial hardship. Martha’s Vineyard falls into the rural category, along with numerous areas beyond Washington D.C. and throughout New York. Many affluent Americans in wealthy rural locations are eligible for BEAD funds. They don’t need financial assistance, but even the wealthy won’t pass up a free government handout.