A Broadband Agenda for the (Eventual) Infrastructure Bill

By on April 2, 2019

From Brookings:  While I’m pessimistic about the near-term prospects for any infrastructure package, I’m hopeful Congress will someday address the country’s infrastructure deficits. I’m also certain that the outcome then will be better if we begin debating different approaches now, enabling Congress to act more effectively when the stars align for action.

What should be the broadband agenda for such legislation? Here are some key principles.

Provide more dedicated funding to broadband.

The latest White House infrastructure proposal placed some of the burden of funding broadband onto the states. As I explained when that proposal was released, institutional and political roadblocks would likely result in none of those dollars going to broadband.

Governors have internal agencies and incentives for spending federal discretionary funding on traditional infrastructure sectors like water, sewer, and roads, a point missed in the White House’s argument that money would flow to rural broadband. If we want universal connectivity, the reality is that we need dedicated funds.

Fortunately, the minimum threshold to fund broadband connectivity may be less than previously anticipated. The National Broadband Plan estimated in 2009 it would take $350 billion to deploy 100MB networks everywhere. By 2017, a similar estimate was reduced to $80 billion. The largest winner of the recent Federal Communications Commission (FCC) subsidy auction will receive $186 million to connect 66,322 locations. At about $2,800 per location, connecting the 5-10 million homes that don’t have access could be in the range of $14-28 billion, a gap Congress could fill by adding to funds the FCC already spends.

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