Democratic members of Congress from both chambers today unveiled a proposal for a $40 billion federal investment in broadband infrastructure that they said would bring broadband to 98% of Americans. They said they would fight to include the plan in “any infrastructure or appropriations package moving in 2017 or 2018.”
Echoing the rural electrification program of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, they dubbed their proposal “A Better Deal.” It includes direct federal support for a universal Internet grant program to close the “last mile” gap, which would be distributed on a technology- and provider-neutral basis; the creation of accurate broadband maps; the delivery of “21st century” Internet speeds; and grants for upgrading critical public safety infrastructure and implementing next-generation 911 services.
Funding would be allocated to areas “that do not presently have, and are not expected to have in a reasonable amount of time, reliable, affordable, high-speed internet,” with applications assessed to target funding “to those areas that are most in need of assistance, and the program would account for the topographic, geographic, and economic challenges in providing high-speed internet throughout the country,” according to a summary of the proposal released by the Senate Democratic Policy Communications Center.
“The program would support existing networks where it’s reasonable and helpful in achieving high-speed affordable internet. Existing providers in unserved and underserved areas would be given the opportunity to use funds to upgrade their existing networks to provide high-speed internet at an affordable price for consumers and businesses. State and local officials could tap these funds to ‘dig once’ and improve broadband access at the same time they’re building and repairing roads, highways and transit systems,” the summary added.
The program would also attempt to leverage state high-speed Internet initiatives by linking the federal funding to them, and it would “tackle the tribal broadband gap” by setting aside support to fund broadband on tribal lands.
Sens. Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.), Jon Tester (D., Mont.), Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), and Edward J. Markey (D., Mass.) and Reps. Cheri Bustos (D., Ill.), Terri Sewell (D., Ala.), Rick Nolan (D., Minn.), and Ann Kuster (D., N.H.) unveiled the proposal at a press event on Capitol Hill.
The broadband infrastructure proposal echoes separate House and Senate Democratic proposals made earlier this year.
Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee in May introduced the Leading Infrastructure For Tomorrow’s America Act (HR 2479), which would provide expanded funding for essential infrastructure improvements, including $40 billion for broadband networks (TR Daily, May 17).
In January, Senate Democrats proposed a “blueprint” that called for allotting $1 trillion in federal funding over 10 years to various types of critical infrastructure projects, including $20 billion to expand rural broadband facilities (TR Daily, Jan. 24).
Democratic National Committee Chief Technology Officer Raffi Krikorian said in a statement today, “For millions of Americans, limited access to the internet is also limiting their ability to participate and compete in the 21st century economy. While we’ve successfully connected most of the country, far too many communities, especially those in rural areas, have been left behind with outdated technology, or no internet access at all. It stifles innovation, limits educational opportunities, and holds back entrepreneurs.”
U.S. Telecom Association President and Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Spalter said, “Closing the digital divide won’t be easy or inexpensive, but an economic jump-start for areas without access to broadband internet service will be worth the investment and remains a national priority. USTelecom’s member companies — many of which are family-owned and have connected their rural communities for decades — are eager to work with federal officials on policies that will allow them to expand or upgrade existing networks, and we thank these Congressional leaders for tackling this important issue. We look forward to working with lawmakers on an infrastructure bill, and other solutions, aimed at achieving the bipartisan goal of ensuring that broadband builds opportunities for all Americans, no matter where we live.”
NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said, “Today’s announcement by House and Senate Democrats is a welcome addition to the ongoing dialogue about how to best promote access to rural broadband. We commend these members of Congress for keeping rural America top of mind, and we are eager for further conversations about how to help ensure that properly tailored and effective programs can promote and sustain affordable access to future-proof broadband networks by all Americans.” —Lynn Stanton, firstname.lastname@example.org