Broadband expansion at risk as $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill stalls

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Democrats on Capitol Hill are still trying to work out a deal on infrastructure spending.

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it’s part of the story crossing the broadband divide, Nerdshala’s coverage of how the country is working toward universalizing broadband access.


As Democrats in Congress target President Joe Biden’s multitrillion-dollar package targeting everything from the streets to child care, there is a small but significant portion of the infrastructure bill hanging in the balance that needs to be addressed as part of our digital divide problem. seen as a potential defense.

for more than two weeks, Democrats have been at an impasse More than two bills at the center of Biden’s domestic agenda, leaving the fate of the $1.2 trillion bipartisan infrastructure bill passed by the Senate in August. The law provides long-overdue funding for upgrading traditional infrastructure such as roads, bridges and the electric grid. But the bill also includes a proposal for $65 billion in federal funding for broadband investment.

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On one side of the debate are progressives in the House, led by Washington Democrat Pramila Jayapal, who are threatening to make the law too big. “Human Infrastructure” Bill — which includes money for child care, paid leave, universal pre-K, community college, affordable housing, Medicare expansion and climate action — does not pass through budget reconciliation in the Senate.

On the other side are two moderate Senate Democrats — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin and Arizona’s Kirsten Cinemas — who say the $3.5 trillion price tag is too high. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California postponed a vote on the bipartisan infrastructure bill in late September, setting a new deadline of October 31 in hopes that the two sides could reach a compromise.

Biden, who considers both pieces of legislation necessary for himself build back better Domestic agenda, say it will happen.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s in six minutes, six days or six weeks,” Biden said After Pelosi canceled a vote on the infrastructure bill in September. “We’re going to get it done.”

But broadband experts are in the worst-case scenario. Some fear that a deadlock that results in the House not voting on a bipartisan infrastructure bill will eventually eliminate the generation-after-generation opportunity to close the digital divide, an issue that has plagued policy for decades. Manufacturers are upset.

“I think we get a shot at this,” said Mark Buell, the Internet Society’s regional vice president of North America.

legislative game of chicken

NS The bipartisan infrastructure bill includes A commitment of $42 billion to deploy broadband where it does not yet exist. Where broadband is available, it pledges $14.2 billion to create a sustainable $30-a-month subsidy program to help serve low-income Americans. The bill offers an additional $2.75 billion for digital equity and inclusion efforts, which could end digital redlining, the practice of Internet service providers avoiding low-income areas – typically neighborhoods with large populations of people of color – Where they don’t think they will make money.

For the first time in more than two decades, policymakers see a real opportunity to make a difference.

“There is an opportunity to get out of the crisis,” FCC Acting Chair Jessica Rosenworcel said in an interview with Nerdshala last month. “With this crisis, we’ve ended the days where we talk about broadband as ‘nice-to-be’.” Policy makers everywhere now understand that this is a ‘need’ for everyone in this country.”

But it’s all at risk as progressives use the infrastructure bill to push for the Build Back Better Act, which has no Republican support.

Buell says this strategy can be risky. He said it could be challenging to pass important spending laws in the mid-term election year. He also fears that as life returns to normal in America, leaders will lose the urgency to tackle the digital divide.

“We are already seeing that bipartisan agreement on anything is starting to fall short,” he said. “The farther we get through the darkest days of the pandemic, the less likely we are to see significant commitment and cooperation between the parties.”

Indeed, Blair Levine, now a Wall Street analyst but previously a Federal Communications Commission official during the Clinton administration and lead author of the National Broadband Plan under President Obama, acknowledged in a note to investors last month that chicken playing a huge game. Like the genesis of the First World War, it can lead to an outcome that no one wants and it is bad for everyone in the economic sphere.

chance of a lifetime

Frustratingly, this issue has been around for more than a decade. In 2010, the Obama administration’s National Broadband Plan presented a guide to developing policy to address the problem. But the well-published report did not lead to concrete action after Congress allocated stimulus money in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Levine said.

“Ten years ago when we wrote the National Broadband Plan, we had expressed many similar things that people are now referring to,” he said. “But it was not a priority. There was not much political capital. There was no money left to deal with these issues.”

In 2017, the FCC Estimated that it would cost $40 billion to deploy fiber networks to 98% of homes. NS agency in 2021. said in It has made some progress in ensuring that more Americans are connected to broadband. From 2018 to 2019, the FCC said the number of Americans lacking a broadband connection of at least 25 megabits per second fell more than 20% to 14.5 million Americans.

Those left behind without access to reliable, affordable broadband are disproportionately people of color, rural areas and low-income households. pew research center data shows that 80% of white adults in the US report that they have a broadband connection, while 71% of black respondents say they have access to broadband and only 65% ​​of Hispanics report having broadband.

In large rural and urban areas, high-speed Internet access is non-existent. In many other communities, service is often unreliable, cheap or very slow.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that Americans need broadband for everything from going to school to going to work, to accessing health care. Congress committed billions in federal COVID relief dollars to provide subsidies to keep millions of Americans online.

Levine said that the driving force behind more investment to close the digital divide around the world due to COVID.

“Covid-19 was a better evangelist for why we needed to solve this problem than I could have ever been,” he said. “COVID taught a lot of government officials why you need broadband in every school child’s homes and why rural areas need it for health care. Now there’s true bipartisan support.”

Levine and other experts say that even if the comprehensive infrastructure bill ends without a House vote, efforts to resolve the digital divide will not be completely finished. He hopes a separate bill can be created to support only broadband and close the digital divide.

“There’s a lot of bipartisan consensus on the need to get more people online,” he said. “I think if a deal can’t be done, there will be pressure on Democrats to do something with the broadband portion of the infrastructure bill.”

He said Republicans would likely support it. “This is one of the most popular provisions of the Infrastructure Bill. I have not heard a single policy objection.” But, he added, “it’s not likely to happen soon.”

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