President Trump’s new 10-year plan to “rebuild America’s infrastructure” does not include any funding set aside for expanding Internet access. Instead, the line up set up a funding pool for many types of infrastructure projects, and broadband is one of the relevant categories.
The $50 billion Rural Infrastructure Plan lists broadband as one of five broad categories of eligible projects. Here is the full list:
- Transportation: roads, bridges, public transportation, railways, airports, and sea and inland ports.
- Broadband (and other high-speed data and communication conduits).
- Water and Waste: drinking water, wastewater, storm water, land reclamation, and Brownfields.
- Power and Electricity: government generation, transmission, and distribution facilities.
- Water resources: flood risk management, water supply, and water systems.
Eighty percent of the $50 billion program will be “provided for the governor of each state.” Governors will take the lead in deciding how to spend the money in their states. Another 20 percent will pay for grants that can be used for any of the above project categories.
Separately, broadband would be eligible for funding from a proposed $20 billion Transitional Services Program, including transportation, clean water, drinking water, energy, and commercial space.
Trump’s plan would also add rural broadcasting facilities to the list of eligible categories Private Activity Bonds, which allows the private sector to “benefit from the low income of tax-free public bonds.” The system will also allow carriers to install small cells and Wi-Fi attachments without going through the same environmental and historical maintenance reviews required for large towers.
Democratic lawmakers are lobbying for $40 billion in dedicated broadband funding. That amount would raise broadband availability from 86 percent to 98 percent of the country, according to a Federal Communications Commission report released during the Obama administration.
Advocate critical of the funding system
Some Democratic and Republican lawmakers have previously argued that putting broadband on the list of projects is not enough and that there should be dedicated funding to improving broadband availability. Democrats were vocal in their criticism of Trump’s plan yesterday.
“With a comparable investment from the federal government in ten years – less than a tenth of 1 percent of GDP – and no dedicated funds for rural broadband, the Administration’s plan falls short in resources, leaving many area behind,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) tell.
“This glib representation is an insult to the rural voters who supported (Trump) in his election, and a missed opportunity to close the digital divide that separates rural and urban America,” Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt. .) tell. “A strong rural broadband network is essential to attract businesses, provide access to health care through telemedicine, help farmers improve, and close the homework gap affecting rural students.”
Welch is the chairman of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, which includes three Democrats and three Republicans. Last month, all six of those lawmakers soft trumpet to “include specific funding for the deployment of rural broadband in underserved and underserved areas.”
Republican leadership in Congress has seemed reluctant to propose dedicated broadcast funding, though. Last month, we contacted the House Committee on Energy and Commerce to ask if a Republican proposal will have specific funding for broadband.
A committee spokesman did not give us a direct answer and said the committee’s Republican leadership was waiting to see what Trump would propose. “We intend to work with our Democratic colleagues on divisive issues, and look forward to reviewing the (Trump) administration’s infrastructure plan once it is announced,” the spokesperson told Ars.
The Democrats’ $40 billion plan to cover 98 percent of the US
Democrats have previously proposed a $40 billion investment to ensure broadband coverage for 98 percent of the country.
“Republicans have not reached out to work with us on broadband infrastructure so far, which makes a lot of sense because Democrats are the only ones advocating actual funding to improve and expand broadband access,” Rep. Frank Pallone (DN. J.) told Ars in a statement last month.
Pallone represents the Democrats as a ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. Forty billion dollars “is essential funding to ensure that almost every American has access to a microphone,” Pallone also told Ars. “The Republican proposals are not very ambitious and do not solve any of our country’s broader infrastructure problems.”
However, some Republicans want to add dedicated broadband funding to the infrastructure plan when it goes through Congress. Senate Broadband Caucus Chair Shelley Moore Capito (R.W.Va.) “argued that governors would be more inclined to spend money on roads and bridges than broadband if infrastructure conditions were included in a rural budget.” ,” according to Politico.
The $40 billion figure proposed by Democrats comes from an FCC book titled, “Improving the Nation’s Digital Infrastructure.”
In December 2015, 14 percent of 160 million US residential and small- and medium-sized business locations did not have access to cable or cable service with speeds of less than 25Mbps and 3Mbps up, the FCC document said. It will cost $40 billion to cover 12 percent with cable in order to bring the total coverage to 98 percent, he said. Getting cable broadband to that final 2 percent, in underserved areas, would require an additional $40 billion, the paper said.
“Unlike the last 2 percent, moreover, we do not expect that the first 12 percent of locations will require ongoing hardware support once the network is built, as subscriber revenues should be sufficient to pay for ongoing network charges,” the document said.
The FCC chairman praised Trump’s plan
The FCC document was released in the final days of then-Chairman Tom Wheeler’s term. The FCC rescinded book and all his findings without explanation shortly after Trump chose Republican Ajit Pai to be the new president.
Yesterday, Pai praised Trump’s infrastructure plan. of Pai sentence discusses the enhancement of wireless through 5G technology but does not mention the expansion of fiber or cable.
“Often, regulatory barriers make it harder and more expensive to build broadband infrastructure than it needs to be—to the detriment of American consumers,” Pai said. “That’s why this plan is so welcome and a strong call to action. I’m ready to work with the Administration and Congress to turn this plan into reality as we continue to bridge the digital divide and extend the 5G space.” digital to all Americans.”
You can also check out our other coverage on what the Trump budget means for scientific research and energy.