What Biden Will Do About US Digital Infrastructures
di Redazione Start Magazine
Biden’s digital infrastructure plan targets broadband with $100 billion in investment over eight years. But success is uncertain, writes Le Monde
To boost the digital infrastructure of the United States, the Biden plan aims at broadband with 100 billion dollars of investment in eight years, as analyst Georges Nahon explains, in an article on “Le Monde”. But the chances of success are uncertain, because times have changed.
On 31 March, President Biden announced his ambitious “Build Back Better” plan, with a chapter on broadband access for all and research and development (R&D). Its goal: job creation (“The American Jobs Plan”). Its goal: China. But since the end of the Cold War, few stimulus plans have produced the expected results. If the plan is approved by Congress, it will have to deal with the dynamics of reality and feasibility that change very quickly.
The finding according to the White House is that in 2021, “more than 30 million Americans still do not have high-speed Internet access”, although, according to cable operators, 70-80% of American homes have physical access at maximum speeds of one gigabit per second, or less than fibre speed in France. But that’s in cities. And one in five Americans lives in rural areas, 35 percent of whom don’t have access at decent speeds.
STARLINK OR KUIPER
For low-income households, the acceptable expense would be $10 a month. Unfortunately, the rate is high, between 50 and 70 dollars a month, because there is little competition in fixed networks: 85.4% of the population in rural areas has only one operator and 14.6% has none.
In the United States, broadband is defined as 25 megabits per second (Mbps) by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the counterpart of the French authority regulating electronic communications, mail and press distribution (Arcep). But according to the organization Broadband Now, the reception speed required for a family of four is at least 108 Mbps. And [the US operator] AT&T expects that by 2025, there will be a doubling of incoming traffic
The plan talks about new nets built to withstand the test of time, which aims at fiber to reduce the risk of obsolescence. To implement it, thirty-two Democratic representatives have introduced a bill: “The Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America (LIFT America) Act”. The broadband portion of LIFT includes $109.3 billion, including $80 billion for 100% broadband deployment, and $9.3 billion in subsidies for “affordability” of tariffs. LIFT also wants to neutralize regulations that prevent municipalities in eighteen states from creating and managing networks.
The plan curiously makes no reference to the satellite Internet that is developing, such as Starlink, by Elon Musk, boss of Tesla or Kuiper, and Jeff Bezos, CEO of Amazon. These constellations of thousands of satellites currently offer Internet access to 100 Mbps/20 Mbps. Kuiper speaks of 500 Mbps. In France, Orange has already launched a similar service with Eutelsat at half price.
With his “New Deal for Broadband” approach, Biden wants to emulate Roosevelt with his Biden-Net. But the world has changed with digital and mobile technology since the enactment of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to electrify the United States. Yet another attempt to “internethylate” the heart of America has been the problem of any new administration since 1991.
The taxpayer-funded Biden-Net will be run mainly by municipalities that have not been the best. Between 2009 and 2017, the federal government will have spent $47.3 billion to bring broadband infrastructure to communities, but successfully mixed.
The implementation of this techno-social broadband project is likely to be long and cumbersome. While the satellite Internet will certainly be able to provide the solution economically and quickly for rural or isolated areas, poorly or not covered by copper or fiber and mobile transmitters. There is therefore the risk, as a senator said, that the Biden-Net project “opens the door to duplication and over-construction [of networks]”.
The chances of success of the Biden-Net plan are uncertain. The plan has an ideological tone that can cause allergies and doubts. It has powerful opponents, telephone and cable companies that hold the market for Internet access.
DIFFICULT TIMES TO RECOVER
As for the Biden R & D plan, is it too little and too late? According to the American president, “in the 1960s, at the time of the first Russian satellite Sputnik, the United States was investing about 2% of our economy, more than any other country and company put together. And now (…) it’s less than half. And meanwhile, in China, we’ve seen R&D spending increase about thirty times since 1990.”
According to economist Richard Duncan, China’s R & D investment has increased by an average of 17% per year since 2001, while US investment has increased on average by only 4% per year.China, number 2 in R&D in 2020, will surpass the United States in R&D investment in 2021 and will invest 40% more than the United States in 2030. In such a scenario, it will be difficult for the United States to catch up.
Biden’s R&D plan is welcome and well received. But it will be difficult to recreate the sense of urgency of the Cold War period that was so favorable to Silicon Valley. The Cold War with China will require much more investment, and faster, but it is not too late. In this field of R&D, it is true, as history has shown, the best is the friend of the good.
(Excerpt from the press review of Epr)