House Democrats Propose $40B Broadband Investment

House Energy & Commerce Committee Democrats have introduced a wide-ranging infrastructure bill that includes a $40 billion broadband component, $10 billion of which could trickle down to subsidizing deployment in underserved areas.

The LIFT America Act's investment in secure and resilient broadband is almost as much as the combined investments in drinking water ($22.56 billion), energy ($17 billion), healthcare ($3 billion) and "brownfields" ($2.7 billion) investments combined.

The Democrats say the bill will "spur new high-paying technology jobs by supporting deployment of smart buildings, smart grid, and Smart Communities technology. "

According to a breakout of the bill, the broadband investment is spread out over five years and will use a reverse auction to subsidize broadband in "unserved" areas (75% of the funds, or $30 billion), with the remaining 25% (that would be $10 billion) going to states via a separate reverse auction.

But if there are no unserved areas in a state, that state could use the funds to serve underserved areas--or as ISPs see it, overbuild existing service--or for connecting libraries and schools or to deploy next gen 911.

The $30 billion would have to go to private entities, but some of the $10 billion could go to governments for 911. (This story initially said that money could go to municipal broadband buildouts, but that was incorrect).

The broadband will have to be high-speed--at least 100 Mbps downstream, and 3 Mbps up, with a carveout for remote areas, where 25 Mbps/3 mbps would qualify, and cost no more than $60 per month for residential service exclusive of taxes and fees. 

Given that it has money for potential overbuilds, both of which the reigning Republican majority has issues with--as do ISPs--the bill's prospects are probably not very bright.

“We appreciate this latest contribution to the evolving debate regarding how best to promote access to broadband,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA The Rural Broadband Association. “While we’re still reviewing the details of this most recent proposal, its introduction and the amount of resources indicated reflect a clear recognition of the importance of broadband as a national infrastructure priority. The ultimate touchstones in any infrastructure discussion must be both how we can build these assets in the first instance and—especially in high-cost rural areas, where the ongoing operation of a network is itself a substantial undertaking—how we can make sure these investments are sustainable for the benefit of the consumers and businesses that depend upon them.”

(Photo via Rock1997Image taken on Jan. 18, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

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.