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Shaheen Bragged About Writing $42 Billion Broadband Program. It’s Connected Zero People to Internet

One year ago this week, U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas was patting his own political back over nearly $200 million in federal tax dollars coming to New Hampshire to improve broadband internet access.

“Access to high-speed internet enables our businesses to compete, communities to thrive, and Granite Staters to succeed,” Pappas was quoted in a press release. “I was proud to help pass the bipartisan infrastructure law to secure these funds.”

He wasn’t alone.

Rep. Annie Kuster said she was “thrilled” by the broadband funding, and Sen. Maggie Hassan called it one of her “key priorities.”

And Sen. Jeanne Shaheen was the most excited of all, sending a “breaking news” press release taking credit for “writing the broadband provisions that created the BEAD program.”

“This is precisely what we had in mind,” Shaheen said of the $200 million broadband cash haul.

But ask Shaheen about the Broadband, Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program today, and she’s a “no comment.” The rest of the delegation is suddenly silent as well. 

Perhaps that’s because of a new report saying the $42 billion program launched in 2021 has yet to connect a single person to the internet.

Not one.

“In 2021, the Biden administration got $42.45 billion from Congress to deploy high-speed Internet to millions of Americans. Years later, it has not connected even one person with those funds. In fact, it now says that no construction projects will even start until 2025 at the earliest,” Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Brendan Carr reported.

According to the Washington Times, the reason Biden’s expensive, high-speed rollout is stuck in dial-up mode is progressive politics.

The law Shaheen helped write imposes burdensome requirements like climate change mandates, preferences for hiring union workers and the requirement that eligible companies prioritize the employment of “justice-impacted” people with criminal records to install broadband equipment.

“The Biden Admin’s failure to turn even a single shovel’s worth of dirt with these dollars flows directly from its own choices,” Carr says. “The administration chose to pursue DEI goals and climate change priorities and to add layers of Byzantine process that senators warned would delay internet builds.”

Among the mandates is a requirement “to prioritize certain segments of the workforce,” such as “individuals with past criminal records” and “justice-impacted participants.”

Carr compared the years of spending and billions of dollars — all without result — to the recent news that Biden’s billion-dollar push for electric vehicle charger stations has led to just seven or eight actually constructed.

“A lot of people look at the seven EV chargers, and they thought that was a big miss,” Carr said. “And you know, at least you got seven EV chargers. Here, we’ve got $42 billion, and we’ve got no shovels in the ground — nobody connected at all.”

As critical as high-speed internet service is for New Hampshire families, getting them connected is taking a back seat to a shopping list of liberal items, according to Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). He joined nine other Senate Republicans in a letter to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) demanding the agency drop its “bureaucratic red tape and far-left mandates” that have kept the program offline.

“As numerous states and stakeholders have articulated, current BEAD rules divert resources away from bringing broadband service to rural America in a manner that is inconsistent with NTIA’s statutory authority in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA). NTIA’s failure to resolve these concerns will prolong the digital divide and put billions of scarce taxpayer dollars at risk,” the senators wrote.

Meanwhile, Carr says, the Biden administration has added insult to injury for Americans in rural areas like northern New Hampshire who could have been helped by the BEAD program.

“While the Biden Admin’s $42.45B plan from 2021 has not resulted in even a single shovel’s worth of dirt being turned, the government in 2022 revoked an award to Starlink that would have delivered high-speed Internet to 642,000 rural locations,” Carr said.

Worse, Carr said, a group of moderate Republicans led by Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) wrote the Biden administration in 2022 warning the heavy-handed regulations proposed for the BEAD program would prevent it from fulfilling its mission.

“Certain provisions go beyond the authority granted to NTIA and will discourage or deter broad provider participation. This undermines our shared goal of delivering broadband service to all Americans as soon as possible,” the senators wrote.

Then, as now, the New Hampshire delegation had no comment.

Grover Norquist to NH: Online Sales Taxes Are Just the Beginning

At a forum in Concord, NH, Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform warned Granite State lawmakers and business owners that the Wayfair decision isn’t about adding an online sales tax. It’s about taking away New Hampshire’s ability to stop any and all out-of-state taxes at the border.

“New Hampshire has the most to lose because it doesn’t have a personal income tax or sales tax,  And the Supreme Court ruling that you don’t have to have a physical nexus in order to impose a tax allows other states to export their income taxes and sales taxes into New Hampshire,” Norquist told NHJournal. “It’s bad news for all 50 states, but New Hampshire is most at risk and hopefully it will take a leading role in fighting back.”

Norquist was a panelist at a forum organized by former NH Republican Speaker of the House Bill O’Brien, featuring analysis by New Hampshire Attorney General Gordon MacDonald; John Formella, legal counsel to Gov. Chris Sununu; and Andrew Cline, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center for Public Policy. And they all echoed Norquist’s fundamental message: There is far more at stake than just online sales taxes for internet purchases.

At issue is the Supreme Court’s Wayfair decision that overturned 50 years of Supreme Court precedent requiring businesses to have a “physical nexus” in a state before that state could require it to collect sales taxes on its behalf. However, as the panelists repeatedly noted, the ruling does not restrict its new standard to sales taxes alone.

“Wayfair was not about balancing taxes between online and brick-and-mortar businesses. It’s about expanding the reach of high-tax states,”  Cline told the audience. “Massachusetts sent state troopers to our liquor stores to try to collect their sales taxes. Do you really think they won’t use this new ruling to try and collect every state tax?”

Gov. Sununu’s legal counsel, John Formella, recounted the infamous story of Town Fair Tire, and the attempt by the state of Massachusetts to force stores located in New Hampshire to collect Bay State sales taxes on its behalf. “The state of New Hampshire passed legislation to block them, but it was eventually the Massachusetts Supreme Court who stopped this effort.”

Formella urged New Hampshire to pursue a two-pronged approach, “legislation and litigation,” passing laws that will protect state businesses from out-of-state tax-collection requirements and eventually taking “the right case” to court to force the Supreme Court to address the issue again.  “Wayfair raised more questions than it answered,” Formella said.

And this, Norquist argues, is why New Hampshire must act aggressively and quickly to place roadblocks to Wayfair.  High-tax states were already trying extend their taxing authority on residents before the Wayfair decision and they’re going to step up these efforts now that the door has been opened.

“In Ohio, if you leave and go to Florida for example, they check to see if you still contribute to any local charities. If you do, that  will be used to say you really haven’t left and so you still must pay Ohio taxes,” Norquist told the audience. That effort was eventually turned back, but “it shows how vicious and how serious they are about chasing after that money.”

“These high-tax states are like East German border guards. If they think you’re fleeing they’ll shoot you in the back.”

O’Brien expressed his concern that the proposal that died in the New Hampshire House this summer was fundamentally flawed. It was a wall, O’Brien said, “but we need a minefield. We need as many laws as possible so that, if one of these states gets over our wall, they find a minefield of legislation waiting for them.”

One “mine” would be a state law making it illegal for New Hampshire businesses to release information about its customers for the purposes of tax collection.  “If this law applies to all New Hampshire businesses without disadvantaging any one and treating all customers the same, no state could claim we were treating them unfairly, and we could invoke our right under the ‘Full Faith and Credit’ clause of the Constitution for the other 49 states to respect our laws,” O’Brien argued.

While Gov. Sununu bemoaned the fact that the legislature failed to pass his proposal in special session over the summer, his counsel said that the effort wasn’t wasted.  For one thing, it re-focused attention on the need not to put any existing protections for in-state businesses at risk.

For example, the proposal called for other states who wanted to collect taxes from local businesses would have to register, which would then give the state Department of Justice 120 days to review that state’s laws and perhaps find legal grounds to refuse their request. “The intent of the registration requirement was to really be a deterrent, but I think there was another way to look at that and that it could be more of an invitation,” Formella said.

The big takeaway, however, is that the door to out-of-state taxation in the Granite State is wide open and it’s imperative that the state act, and act aggressively.

“At least 32 states are acting to require out-of-state tax collections by vendors,” New Hampshire AG Gordon MacDonald told the audience. “It hasn’t happened yet, but it’s just a matter of time.”