New Report Warns of Populist Campaign to Replace America’s Market-Led Broadband System With Utility-Style Networks

January 18, 2022

WASHINGTON—A determined coalition of populist activists is waging an aggressive campaign to undermine America’s market-led system for broadband Internet services and replace it with a tightly regulated utility-style system, ideally operated by government, warns a new report from the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), the leading think tank for science and technology policy. With $65 billion in federal broadband infrastructure spending now on the table, ITIF warns these populists sense their moment could be at hand, so it is critical for policymakers to understand the boldness of their agenda.

“Broadband populists harbor an overarching animus toward the capitalist system and large corporations in general, and they believe that broadband, much like roads and sewers, is inherently a public utility,” said ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson, who authored the report. “Their goal is to overthrow the current system and replace it with one in which broadband is either provided by government or, if that is not possible, then operated as a tightly regulated utility.”

ITIF’s report examines and refutes eight claims that broadband populists and radicals frequently make to support their endgame of undermining the current U.S. broadband system—including that speeds are too slow, rural coverage is too limited, urban coverage suffers from digital redlining, broadband providers don’t protect users’ privacy, net neutrality needs to be protected, prices and profits are too high, and broadband is a fundamental human right. ITIF’s analysis shows the facts belie the populists’ case.

While there are certainly aspects of the U.S. broadband system that need to be improved—particularly when it comes to supporting low-income households and provisioning high-cost areas—the populists’ claims only serve to divert attention from their real agenda, which is to establish government-operated networks. ITIF argues that policymakers, the media, and the public must understand the true motivation behind their relentless attacks on the U.S. broadband system.

“The most important question for policymakers to decide is whether the broadband economy is best advanced by large companies mobilizing the capital and technical expertise needed to continue to move U.S. broadband forward, or by a fundamentally different system of smaller, local companies and governments providing broadband service,” said Atkinson. “That is what the broadband debate is really about; the rest is a smokescreen to cover the populists’ and radicals’ real agenda.”

Read the report.