President Biden today announced the completion of a “true bipartisan effort” to craft a physical infrastructure bill. A group of five Republican and Democratic senators and the administration agreed to a “framework” for a $1.2 trillion plan that the group will support in Congress. The compromise includes funding for “universal broadband” and electric infrastructure projects.
The framework will “deliver high-speed internet to every American home, bringing down the price people pay now for internet service and close the American digital divide,” Biden said in a press briefing (see video). “This deal will put people to work across the country building transmission lines, upgrading the power grid to be more energy efficient and resilient during extreme weather in the climate crisis.”
Whether the plan will pass appears to be uncertain. Some Democrats in the House and Senate are skeptical of the plan, which drops the “human infrastructure” provisions the administration included in its initial $2 trillion American Jobs Plan proposal. At the same time, Republicans who participated in the negotiations included Senators Mitt Romney (UT), Susan Collins (ME) and Lisa Murkowski (AK), who are unpopular among party conservatives.
According to a “fact sheet” the White House released detailing the new plan, it calls for $65 billion in funds to deliver broadband service to all Americans. State and local governments would be charged with distributing the funds, similar to a much smaller-scale program now being administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA). The $65 billion compromise is a reduction from the American Jobs Plan’s original $100 billion proposal.
The plan also devotes $73 billion to “power infrastructure.” It would “upgrade our power infrastructure, including by building thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines to facilitate the expansion of renewable energy, including through a new Grid Authority. The plan is the single largest investment in clean energy transmission in American history,” the administration claims.
The Grid Deployment Authority is a carryover from the American Jobs Plan. It would be a division of the U.S. Department of Energy involved in right-of-way disputes and finding “creative financing tools” for renewable projects.
Negotiators also set aside $7.5 billion for electric vehicle infrastructure, which the fact sheet defines as “chargers along highways and in rural and disadvantaged communities … The Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will accomplish the President’s goal of building 500,000 EV chargers.”
Update, June 29: NRECA and NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association were among 172 organizations signing a letter urging Congress to keep the “universal” in the administration’s universal broadband goal. The groups compared the push for $65 billion in funding for broadband projects to the passage of the Rural Electrification Act in the 1930s. “The United States met the challenge of electrifying America in the last century with an audacious plan we take for granted today. A similarly bold approach is needed to build universally available broadband infrastructure fully capable of supporting all communications technology needs and meet ever rising demand for bandwidth,” the groups said. At the same time, the letter calls for raising the minimum broadband performance from the FCC’s current 25/3 Mbps. “Any new federal program must fund broadband infrastructure capable of enabling businesses to meet the needs of consumers, empower businesses to relocate to any community, provide opportunities for teleworkers and students at the same level regardless of geography, enable anchor institutions to fully provide for their entire communities, and make possible precision agriculture capabilities for agriculture producers to improve efficiencies,” they said.