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Infrastructure Draft Does Not Include Rural Broadband

Randy Sukow Jan 22, 2018

Internet news site Axios today published what it claims is a leaked copy of a draft of the White House proposal for infrastructure legislation. The six-page document includes a section outlining a “Rural Infrastructure Program … to encourage investment to enable rural economies, facilitate freight movement, improve access to reliable and affordable transportation, etc.” However, draft does not include any provision for additional federal funding for broadband internet construction.

The draft is in the form of an outline, setting out broad priorities for funding without specific dollar amounts. It does, however, state that the Rural Infrastructure Project would “account for 25 percent of total appropriation.” Early in his discussion of a possible infrastructure bill a year ago, President Trump mentioned $1 trillion as a total amount for the plan with funds to be distributed over a 10-year period.

The Rural Infrastructure Program would distribute funds in the form of block grants to the states for rural areas with populations of 50,000 or less. States would have to apply for funding by submitting “a rural infrastructure investment plan (RIIP).” The document specifies only two areas of funding for the program. A “power and electric” section calls for funding of “governmental generation, transmission and distribution facilities.” A “water resources” section would fund “inland waterway ports, flood risk management, maritime ports and water supply.”

According to Axios, a White House spokesman refused to answer questions about the leaked draft. The sketchy nature of the document suggests that there will be more detail before the Trump Administration releases it for debate in Congress. That perhaps provides time for those who still hope to include additional rural broadband funding. Such funding has been popular on Capitol Hill and in the communications industry. Most recently, a bipartisan group of senators last week called for direct broadband funding.

Update, January 24: A bipartisan group of 71 members of the House of Representatives yesterday reacted to the draft infrastructure proposal by signing a letter to President Trump urging the inclusion of direct funding for rural broadband. “We are concerned about recent reports that your forthcoming proposal may not include investments in rural broadband connectivity. We write today to reiterate our support for the proposal to include funding specifically for rural broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas,” said the group, referring to a similar letter the same group wrote in support of broadband funding a year ago at the beginning of the infrastructure bill discussion.

While the Rural Infrastructure Program section of the draft does not include direct funding for broadband, some have claimed that other, more generic sections of the draft could allow states to apply funding for broadband at their own discretion. Yesterday’s letter emphasized the need for specifically designated broadband funding. “We appreciate the Administration’s effort to promote policies that will streamline and incentivize rural broadband deployment; however, we also encourage the inclusion of connectivity investments in your infrastructure proposal,” the group said.

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