A bipartisan group of US Senators is getting closer to finalizing the broadband policy provisions to be included in the Biden administration's $1 trillion infrastructure package.
Speaking on a Fiber for Breakfast webinar today, Gary Bolton, CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association, confirmed that legislators had settled some of those details, including how the broadband funding will be divided.
According to Bolton, the $65 billion breaks down as follows:
- $40 billion for broadband network construction
- $14 billion for the USDA RUS Reconnect program
- $6 billion for broadband financing programs
- $5 billion for affordability and adoption initiatives
Further, he said, a group of Senators is finalizing remaining details – including how funding gets administered and network requirements – with a reported deadline of July 9.
On funding administration, Bolton confirmed that the money will go directly to the states to award eligible recipients – which would be a win for local leaders who've been advocating for as much. Still to be determined is whether that cash will be administered by the FCC or the NTIA (the former, which has a notorious mapping problem; and the latter, which just released its own map with a more detailed look at the digital divide).
As far as network requirements go, Bolton cited several options being negotiated: including 100Mbit/s download and 20Mbit/s upload "in areas with 25/3 or less," as proposed by Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Cornyn (R-TX); as well as gigabit symmetric speeds cited in the BRIDGE Act, co-sponsored by Senators Angus King (I-ME), Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).
"In short, this package is the single largest commitment of federal dollars ever for broadband, and we remain very encouraged by the bipartisan support to fully fund the national broadband program for future-proof networks," said Bolton.
In this episode of The Divide, FBA's Gary Bolton says the US needs a fiber-first strategy.
The bipartisan $65 billion broadband bill is $35 billion less than President Biden initially proposed, but if passed it will indeed represent the most significant national effort to close the digital divide.
Still, it's worth noting that several broadband experts have previously said that it will take more than $65 billion to solve connectivity challenges in the US, especially if the goal is a "future-proof" fiber network.
Testifying at a Congressional hearing this year, Johnny Park, CEO of Wabash Heartland Innovation Network (WHIN), said it could cost up to $150 billion to get high-speed fiber Internet everywhere it's needed.
Nevertheless, at an event in Illinois this afternoon promoting the administration's efforts on infrastructure, President Biden made brief, optimistic mention of the forthcoming broadband bill.
"One in every ten people in Illinois lacks access to high-speed Internet," he said. "The bipartisan agreement ... allows us to connect every American to reliable, high-speed, affordable Internet. Every single American, rural and urban."
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor and host of "The Divide" and "What's the Story?" Light Reading