Matt Cordio: Conservatives Should Take a Free Market Approach to Driving Rural Broadband Adoption
Rep. Rob Summerfield (R-Spooner), recently testified that nearly 400,000 rural Wisconsinites lack access to high-speed broadband in 2021. This is disappointing, as over the past few decades BILLIONS of state and federal taxpayer dollars have been spent subsidizing big telecom companies to deliver high-speed broadband to Wisconsin’s rural communities.
More recently, Governor Evers proposed allocating $200M of Federal COVID-19 relief funds to address the rural broadband issue. Republicans in the legislature, upped the ante and are requesting the State spends $500M of our COVID-19 relief funds on rural broadband subsidies for big telecom companies through AB 239 and SB 278. While these efforts are well intentioned, neither proposal promises to fix the rural broadband issue once and for all. These proposals are payouts and are not fiscally responsible uses of government funds.
Great news, the technology does exist to solve the rural broadband issue within a year if policymakers recraft their proposal to leverage free market principles to incentivize consumer adoption of modern high-speed rural broadband solutions versus continuing down the path of subsidizing the middlemen (big telecom companies) who have failed to cost-effectively deliver high-speed broadband to thousands of rural Wisconsin households.
Enter Elon Musk, the prolific technology entrepreneur and founder of SpaceX. Musk’s firm is already testing Starlink, the company’s high-speed rural broadband solution delivered to customer’s homes through a network of low-orbit satellites in rural Wisconsin. By the end of this year Starlink’s service will be fully functional and offer a wireless high-speed broadband solution that far exceeds the State’s broadband speed requirements to every community in Wisconsin (and the rest of the world).
Rather than continue to subsidize big telecom companies, true conservatives in the legislature should take a free market-driven approach to solving the rural broadband issue which is holding our state’s rural economy back. Each Starlink access point is just $500 and can be self-installed by a consumer. Instead of subsidizing the installation of old technology, legislators should propose a program that provides a $500 tax credit to rural households who adopt wireless high-speed broadband technology. If consumers have a challenge paying for broadband service this tax credit could cover a certain percentage of the $100 monthly fee for consumers to access the Starlink network.
Legislators in Wisconsin have the opportunity to deliver rural broadband to every consumer in Wisconsin likely for much less than the Governor and some Republicans propose.
Will legislators take a free market, fiscally responsible approach to providing broadband service to all rural consumers who want it? Or, will they continue to subsidize middlemen and outdated technology which has failed to deliver critical broadband service to thousands of Wisconsinites.
Cordio is a Conservative technology entrepreneur residing in Waukesha and Waupaca counties