Opinion briefs: Monument boundaries and billions for broadband?

Will Biden meet with Utah delegation? Utah’s entire congressional delegation has requested – twice – a meeting with Pres. Joe Biden before he makes a final decision regarding the fate of the Bears Ears and Grand-Staircase Escalante national monuments.

It’s really quite a reasonable request. This is a test to see if Biden really does want to reach across the aisle and govern in a bipartisan way. The delegation also requested that Interior Secretary Deb Haaland’s full report on the monuments be made available to Congress. That’s also a very reasonable request.

Biden should welcome the delegation’s input as the folks who actually represent the monument areas. Some reasonable discussion, negotiation and compromise could produce final boundaries for the monuments that would be permanent. That would allow monument managers, local citizens and governments and tourism officials to make real, lasting plans for the monuments. 

If Biden shoves something down the collective throats of Utah leaders, then it’s likely yo-yo management will continue. The next Republican president will reverse Biden’s action. That’s not good for the land or the psyche of those trying to live around and manage the monuments. Relationships between Utah leaders, local citizens and the Biden administration will worsen.

This is also an opportune time for negotiation and cooperation because Biden will be dealing with a relatively moderate delegation and governor. Gov. Spencer Cox, Sen. Mitt Romney, and Congressmen John Curtis and Blake Moore, in particular, are willing to negotiate in good faith. They don’t want to slash the monuments to nothing. They want to protect land that deserves protection. They’re not looking to make political points.

Executive orders are a terrible way to create large national monuments. It creates yo-yo land management. Biden should jump at this chance to do it right and resolve this divisive issue permanently. His decision will show his true colors.

Let private sector handle broadband.  In a Fox News op-ed, Utah Congressman John Curtis argues that Biden’s infrastructure plan, which would spend $100 billion on broadband, is ill-advised because it would subsidize government-owned broadband networks and give government more control.

Curtis has experience with government-run broadband networks because he inherited i-Provo (a city-owned network) when he become mayor of Provo and had to eventually sell it for $1 – because that was all it was worth – to Google Fiber. “The better path,” he wrote, “is to lean on the expertise and innovation of private companies.”

I agree with Curtis. I’ve written previously that it makes no sense for government to build and operate broadband networks, or even subsidize private networks, when entrepreneurs like Elon Musk are planning to cover the globe with high-speed broadband access. If government wants to be involved, perhaps it could offer vouchers to low-income people to purchase broadband.

I noted in another column that I live in a very remote location and the only Internet access I can get is via satellite. It’s a bit expensive and isn’t blazingly fast, but it works fine for Zoom meetings and most any digital activity. Satellite internet is available essentially everywhere. And, thanks to a half dozen or so firms, led by Musk’s StarLink, satellite internet is becoming much faster and cheaper.

Over the next several months or, at most, a few years, essentially every spot in the country will have fast broadband, at a good price, via satellite. There will be provisions for schools, businesses, etc. The rollout is occurring much faster than any federal broadband program will happen.

It isn’t necessary to spend a hundred billion dollars of taxpayer money for broadband when the private sector is going to do the job just fine.