House Passes Dems' Massive Broadband Funding Bill

The Democratically controlled House Wednesday passed H.R. 2, the Invest in America Act (part of the larger Moving Forward Act infrastructure bill), which would allocate billions to subsidize broadband competition--including from municipal providers--in "underserved" areas which according to the Dems could mean where service is already provided by private capitol at just short of gig speeds.  

The bill would allocate $60 billion to overbuild service the FCC now considers high-speed ("low-tier" service that can be overbuilt with that money includes anything under 100 Mbps). And if there is no service under 100 Mbps, a state could actually use it to overbuild service under 1 Gig.  

The definition of broadband service is at least 25 mbps downstream and 3 up--currently the FCC's working definition of high-speed--and at "a latency that is sufficiently low to allow real-time, interactive applications. Underserved varies widely, and can potentially be defined as amount of competition or price.   

“There is no better way to stimulate our economy and create millions of good paying jobs than to modernize our badly aging infrastructure, especially now that millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," said House Energy & Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone. "I’m proud that the Moving Forward Act included key provisions from the Energy and Commerce Committee." 

The bill passed over the objections of House Republicans who called it a partisan package and missed opportunity for a compromise bill. 

"Today is another day Democrats in Congress could have put down their political swords and found common ground with Republicans who have offered proposals to make American energy infrastructure more resilient and safeguard it from cyberattacks," said House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.). "Republicans have proposed more than two dozen policies to help get high speed broadband to all Americans. Republicans have been working to bolster auto safety and put America in the driver’s seat of autonomous vehicle innovation and production," he said. 

 “Unfortunately, Democrats who rule the House continue to put politics over progress. Instead of working with Republicans to find bipartisan solutions that can actually become law and improve our nation’s infrastructure, Democrats have put forth yet another partisan messaging exercise without even consulting Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee. We continue to be at the table ready to work with Democrats, and hope they begin to show up to work for the American people." 

Republicans introduced their own framework for closing the digital divide with more than two dozen broadband bills, including ones speeding cable franchising decisions, zoning decisions, and making it easier to deploy infrastructure on federal lands.

“Today’s vote is a historic victory for the millions of people who are suffering through the COVID-19 crisis without access to the internet. H.R. 2 is the biggest and boldest broadband infrastructure bill that Congress has ever passed," said Joshua Stager, senior counsel for New America’s Open Technology Institute. "This legislation invests $100 billion to ensure that everyone in the United States can get online."

“The only thing that can keep us connected to our families, friends, and communities while staying safe during a pandemic is an internet connection,” said Communications Workers of America President Chris Shelton. “For working people, a reliable internet connection is not optional -- it’s an absolute necessity. Thanks to Whip Clyburn and the Rural Broadband Task Force, the Moving Forward Act includes provisions that would support providing broadband access to millions of families and would ensure that workers doing that build out are able to exercise their rights. The Senate has already stalled on the Heroes Act, which would help in the short-term in keeping working families connected during the pandemic. It’s past time for Mitch McConnell and the Senate to act on this key issue. If they don’t, we must hold them accountable--and make sure that the Moving Forward Act becomes the new baseline for expanding broadband access across the country.”

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.