Hill Democrats Propose $20 Billion Broadband Spend

Looking to trump the president's trillion-dollar infrastructure spending plans, Hill Democrats Tuesday (Jan. 24) unveiled their own plan, which calls for spending big bucks to expand "high-speed and affordable broadband" in both unserved and "underserved" areas, including funding for both middle mile (backbone) and last-mile wired and wireless deployment

That allocation was not surprising given the importance of broadband deployment to the previous Democratic administration.

The Democratic plan calls for a $20 billion investment, which the Dems say would result in 260,000 new jobs. 

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, was a key co-sponsor of the spending plan, which included the following: "To close the rural-urban divide, and to push toward ubiquitous access to high-speed broadband, we will invest $20 billion to fund the build out of high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved areas. This funding will be available to projects currently eligible under programs at both the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. We also propose expanding the programs to enable grant recipients to use grant funds to deploy various types of infrastructure capable of offering, middle-mile, last-mile wired and wireless broadband access, and adding evaluation criteria in the awards process to ensure that the funding goes to the most effective and efficient uses. Finally, we propose ensuring additional funding is available to help upgrade our nation’s aging 9-1-1 system and other critical infrastructure technology."

The Commerce and Agriculture departments also received billions in broadband funds as part of the BTOP stimulus plan under President Obama.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association applauded the plan and its backers, which also include Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.). The CCIA also pointed out that both FCC chairman Ajit Pai and President Trump support infrastructure buildouts.

RELATED: Pai Prioritizes Closing Digital Divide

Internet buildout is an issue that has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill and in the executive branch. Pai has expressed support for the idea in recent months, and President Trump made infrastructure improvements a major campaign issue.

“Our economy depends on connectivity, and we need higher speeds and stronger broadband networks to remain competitive," said CCIA president Ed Black. "Broadband buildout done properly would create a wave of jobs and leave better access to high speed broadband for more citizens in its wake. Broadband buildout is an issue that does have and should have broad, bipartisan support. We appreciate the steps Democrats and Republicans are now taking to make their shared goals a reality for the thousands of citizens who need high speed internet access and the jobs that would bring.”

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.