The strange policy of federal funds for broadband

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Patrick R. Miller is associate professor of political science at the University of Kansas.“/>
Patrick R. Miller is associate professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

Despite opposition from most of our delegation to Congress from Kansas, new federal dollars are coming to Kansas to expand broadband access.

President Joe Biden recently signed a $ 1.2 trillion infrastructure bill, fulfilling a 2020 campaign pledge. The bill had moderate bipartisan support, although all of Kansas’ congressional Republicans ‘are opposed to it. The only Kansan to support him was Democratic Representative Sharice Davids.

Kansas will receive about $ 4 billion of the bill, including about $ 100 million to expand broadband infrastructure and money to help 669,000 working-class Kansans get discounted Internet access. thanks to the advantage of affordable connectivity.

“Broadband” means high-speed Internet access, in particular a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps). However, many tech experts argue that this definition is outdated and suggest a standard of 100 Mbps.

Broadband is an economic necessity. Companies that do not have it find it difficult to grow. Doctors without her struggle to serve patients. Without it, the Kansans find it difficult to complete basic online tasks using unreliable and slow connections.

According to BroadbandNow, which tracks data from Internet service providers, 173,000 Kansans do not have broadband service at home and 307,000 do not have access to connections capable of high speed speeds.

Rural communities tend to struggle more to gain broadband access. Grassroots capitalism explains why: It is expensive and not necessarily profitable for businesses to build broadband infrastructure in smaller rural communities with lower population densities and often declining populations.

BroadbandNow data shows this division in Kansas. For example, in urban Shawnee County, 95% of residents have access to a speed of 25 Mbps and 93% to 100 Mbps. Nearby, in the rural county of Wabaunsee, these figures are 65% and 55% respectively. In rural Doniphan County, it’s 89% and 12%.

The infrastructure bill has an odd policy given that several provisions – like broadband – disproportionately help Republican-leaning rural communities. Why would our elected Republican oppose it?

Broadband has rushed into the theater of partisan Beltway politics. In 2016, former President Donald Trump promised a $ 1 trillion infrastructure bill. Trump broke that promise. He then attacked Bill Biden and acted offend the Republicans who supported him.

Even though our Republican lawmakers secretly supported the infrastructure bill and broadband money for Kansas, politics prevented them from speaking openly about it. Perhaps they were afraid of ending their political careers in a primary. But rural Kansans who get the internet through a dial-up connection or slow mobile hotspot with limited data probably don’t care about the president’s signature bringing them broadband.

Some of our Kansas Republican lawmakers have criticized the cost of the infrastructure bill and its impact on debt. Perhaps they forgot that Trump’s infrastructure plan costs about the same as Biden’s, or that Trump’s presidency has added $ 7.8 trillion in national debt, according to data from the Federal Reserve. Politics – not money – seems to be the real problem.

Some politicians say they support broadband but oppose the infrastructure bill. OK. Words will not solve this problem. What legislation have they sponsored to separately fund broadband? And are they supporting the House Republican CONNECT Act in this Congress that would ban local governments from creating broadband networks to serve their local citizens?

Of all the parts of the infrastructure bill, broadband seems to be worth the cost, especially if it helps our struggling rural communities integrate into the modern economy and stop population loss. It is unfortunate that Beltway politics prevented the average Kansans from gaining the greater bipartisan support they deserved here.

Patrick R. Miller is associate professor of political science at the University of Kansas.

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