Broadband Leads Off Biden Bill-Signing Ceremony

U.S. President Joe Biden signs the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act as he is surrounded by lawmakers and members of his Cabinet during a ceremony on the South Lawn at the White House on Nov. 15, 2021 in Washington, DC.
President Joe Biden signs the infrastructure bill at a Nov. 15 White House ceremony. (Image credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images)

The White House led off its infrastructure bill-signing event Monday (Nov. 12) with remarks from an African-American optical fiber worker for Corning, who talked about the $65 billion investment in broadband in the $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill and its impact on her and other workers.

Of that $65 billion, $42 billion or so will go to states in the form of broadband grants.

Last month, the White House had neglected to even include broadband in a fact sheet about the various impacts of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act on diversity and inclusion.

In his speech before the signing, President Joe Biden said high-speed internet is essential and the bill would make it affordable and available everywhere, doubling down on Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo’s assertion that the investment is enough to achieve universal broadband. Biden said that no parent should have to sit in a parking lot so their kids can do their homework. “That’s over,” he promised.

President Biden has certainly picked the right Federal Communications Commission chair for that pledge. Jessica Rosenworcel has made closing the broadband homework gap a signature issue since her days as a commissioner.

The administration has succeeded in getting tens of billions of dollars in subsidies for broadband, making a point of how important it is to close the digital diversity divide in part by making broadband more affordable. That made the lack of a broadband mention in the fact sheet notable for its absence, as was Monday’s decision to lead off with a diverse voice talking about the importance of broadband.

Vice President Kamala Harris, deputized by the president to oversee the universal broadband push, figured prominently in the ceremony, speaking first when she and Biden came out for the bill-signing.

“We got it done, America,” Harris said of the bill, giving a shout-out to a broadband infrastructure worker but focusing her remarks on big picture rhetoric. Harris was followed by an ex-prisoner and now an iron worker and activist, Heather Kurtenbach, who talked about how the bill would create good union jobs for people like her, and who introduced the President.

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said the bill would finally bring millions of Americans online, bothin rural and underserved urban areas. He said that more than 1 million New Yorkers did not have access or a subscription to broadband.

Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said finding common ground should be rewarded, not attacked, a reference to the handful of Republicans — including Portman — who joined with Democrats to pass the legislation. He said the infrastructure investment should not be a one-time bipartisan effort, but the norm of how the Congress should work.

“Broadband connects us to jobs, education, healthcare and each other,” FCC commissioner Geoffrey Starks said of the bill‘s signing. ”But tens of millions of Americans without reliable, high-quality internet access cannot share equally in those benefits. The plan President Biden signed into law today makes historic investments in righting that longstanding wrong: expanding broadband infrastructure, making broadband affordable, and empowering Americans with digital skills and inclusion. We now have a once-in-a-generation chance to bring broadband to all Americans. Let’s get to work.”

“We commend President Biden and both houses of Congress for their bipartisan efforts to connect every individual to high-speed internet and close the digital divide,” said Broadband Equity for All, whose members include ACA Connects, Charter Communications, Comcast, AT&T and many others. “This bill provides a predictable, dependable, long-term broadband benefit program that will ensure that people from every community can get connected and help guarantee the educational benefits, health care access and economic prosperity that come with the ability to get online. 

“With passage of this bipartisan legislation, more low-income households will be able to afford high-speed broadband and experience all of the possibilities and opportunities it provides,” the group said.

"Under the Act, NTIA has been charged with administering the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program, which will fund the infrastructure buildouts needed to connect every American to reliable, high-speed, affordable broadband," said Evelyn Remaley, acting assistant secretary of commerce for communications and information and NTIA Administrator. "Other NTIA programs will address digital inclusion and equity, as well as expand middle mile infrastructure. Our active Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program has received an additional $2 billion to help further our efforts on tribal lands.

"Our work is already underway, and we’re eager to engage with stakeholders in every state, territory, tribe, and community to ensure these programs succeed." 

“We applaud the passage and signing of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which will provide critical resources and services to Asian American and other underserved communities," said Asian Americans Advancing Justice. "The infrastructure package includes $40 billion for broadband deployment and $14.2 billion for broadband affordability measures which will continue to fund a broadband subsidy for qualifying households. This funding is a crucial part of bridging the digital divide by providing much needed improvements to broadband infrastructure, lowering the cost of high quality internet, and providing more opportunities for underserved communities to access digital services and resources.

"The pandemic has demonstrated how critical internet access is for communities to be able to survive and thrive. High quality and reliable broadband is necessary to keep immigrant families connected to their in-language communities both in the U.S. and abroad, provide the elderly with more accessible health care, give students access to English as a Second Language homework assistance and other learning programs, and connect refugee populations to job training programs. Many jobs and opportunities will remain remote and only accessible online, health services will be made more affordable and easy to schedule online, and special programming that has been developed for youth, the elderly, and others will continue to take place online. Broadband access and online services were essential before the pandemic, and communities expect to rely even more heavily on technology and remote solutions after the pandemic subsides."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.