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Trump Administration Releases Details of $1.5 Trillion Infrastructure Plan Leveraging $200 Billion in Federal Funds

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WASHINGTON, February 11, 2018 – After a year of promises, President Donald Trump on Monday is expected to unveil his long-awaited proposal for revamping the nation’s infrastructure. The plan, which was previewed by a senior White House official over the weekend, is designed to stimulate investment with an injection of limited federal funds and streamlining the permitting process.

Infrastructure is obviously a critical component to the functioning of our economy,” the official said. He called the current system “fundamentally broken” because of years of underinvestment and a permitting process that can take up to a decade before construction on infrastructure projects can begin.

“[T]he President’s vision is to have a permanent fix for the problems that plague us in terms of underinvesting and the length of the permitting process, and not just kick the can down the road and pass things over for a couple of years, which has been the habit in infrastructure policy for the last couple of decades.”

Is Trump infrastructure plan coming back to the forefront?

During the 2016 election, Trump often spoke of the nation’s crumbling bridges and roads. He pledged to help rebuild as President by bringing the know-how and experience he’d gained from decades working as a real estate executive building hotels and apartment complexes in numerous countries.

Many hoped that this experience would lead Trump to make an infrastructure package his first priority.

But the White House only touched lightly upon the subject during Trump’s first year. Last June, in an attempt at imposing message discipline by the communications division of the White House, Trump’s nascent administration tried its hand at highlighting infrastructure issues – particularly the difficulties associated with the federal permitting process – during something called “infrastructure week.” It was one of several similarly-themed weeks.

That week included the signing of an executive order meant to streamline the federal permitting process. But the week soon became dominated by coverage of Capitol Hill testimony by former FBI Director James Comey and other news relating to Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

Previously leaked document shows Trump administration plans to spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure

Leaked documents indicate plans to spend $1.5 trillion on infrastructure projects. But the administration’s second bite at the infrastructure apple might disappoint those seeking large federal projects.

Although $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan would certainly rival the Obama administration’s American Reinvestment and Recovery Act, estimated at the time as $787 billion of new spending. The amount was later revised to $831 billion between 2009 and 2019.

But the Trump proposal envisions no new federal projects, contains no overarching plan for repairing, rebuilding or new construction projects, and gives nearly no attention to 21st century digital infrastructure components like fiber or wireless broadband.

Instead, Trump’s proposal will spend just $200 billion in federal funds – to be found in cost savings from other programs – on loans and block grants for mostly rural infrastructure projects.

Details of Trump administration infrastructure investment plans

The $1.5 trillion number, the official said, comes not from any rigorous attempt at projections but represents how state and local governments will respond to the program.

While it was once projected at $1 trillion, it was bumped up to half a trillion “because we’ve actually received a… more enthusiastic response than we anticipated from state and local governments coming to us and saying, ‘we have this project, we have funding identified, but we’d love to participate in incentives to get that match to help finish up the project and build the whole thing.’”

The hope, the senior White House official said, is that the $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment will be realized by spending the $200 billion and having it stimulate states, localities, and the private sector to spend that much on infrastructure investments in the form of repairs and improvements to existing infrastructure as well as new construction projects.

The plan reserves one-half of the $200 billion — which the official referred to as an “incentives package” – for use as matching funds to be distributed to state and local governments as a reward for infrastructure spending.

“If they’re creating new revenue streams and they want to build something, we will partner with them to help them to match and fulfill that one final gap in terms of financing infrastructure.”

The fund will finance rail, water and transportation projects

The plan directs another 10 percent of the $200 billion, or $20 billion, toward expand current loan and private activity bond programs to finance rail, water and other transportation projects.

Still another $20 billion will be directed toward “transformative projects,” which the official defined as projects “that can lift the American spirit, that are the next-century-type of infrastructure as opposed to just rebuilding what we have currently.”

“That ensures that we’re not focusing on just patching up the infrastructure that we have currently, but will we also have a vision toward the future,” the official said.

Another $10 billion won’t actually go toward infrastructure projects, but will be set aside for a “capital financing fund” to help with “governmental accounting rules,” the official said. “In essence, it’s a just more responsible way for us to actually fund the office-building infrastructure that the federal government is building currently.”

Second-largest segment of funds, or $50 billion, will go to rural infrastructure

But the official confirmed that the plan sets aside the second-largest portion of funds of the $200 billion in federal spending – $50 billion – for rural infrastructure projects.

While the $100 billion “incentives package” will be spent as matching funds, the $50 billion directed specifically for rural states, which overwhelmingly supported Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election. This $50 billion will be distributed directly to rural governors in the form of block grants, “to allow governors to select what the priorities of infrastructure are in their respective states.”

While telecommunications projects of a “transformative nature” would theoretically be eligible to receive federal funding, the rural program is the only part of the plan for which broadband is specifically envisioned as a use case, the senior White House official said.

Previously announced rural broadband initiatives

Monday’s plan will not, however, be the Trump administration’s first foray into the world of rural broadband, as President Trump has previously acknowledged the need for expanded broadband access in rural America.

In January 2018, Trump addressed the American Farm Bureau convention in Nashville, Tennessee, and signed two executive actions meant to facilitate rural broadband deployment: An executive order for “Streamlining and Expediting Requests to Locate Broadband Facilities in Rural America” and a presidential memorandum for “Supporting Broadband Tower Facilities in Rural America and Federal Properties Managed by the Department of the Interior.”

The two actions would “provide broader and faster, and better internet coverage,” Trump said at the time.

Another previously-announced rural broadband initiative announced by the Trump administration intended to explore the use of federally-owned “dark fiber” – fiber that has been laid but is not currently in use – in order “to interconnect and provide service to communities that have not had access to broadband before,” National Economic Council Special Assistant for Technology, Telecommunications, and Cybersecurity Grace Koh said in January.

Compared to Obama, Trump administration shows lack of attention to telecommunications infrastructure

The lack of attention to broadband and other telecommunications infrastructure from Trump or his advisors compared to that given to brick-and-mortar projects may not be surprising when considering the president’s background as a builder.

Still, it remains noteworthy when contrasted with the Obama administration’s attention to broadband deployment and efforts to improve access and close the digital divide, which were the focus of several programs funded under the 2009 American Reinvestment and Recovery Act.

Under the Recovery Act, in which Congress pumped federal money into an economy still suffering from the effects of the 2008 financial crisis, the Obama administration distributed a combined $7.2 billion in loans and grants through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunity Program and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband Incentives Program.

While the Trump infrastructure plan in theory makes a combined $60 billion available which could be used for broadband projects, none of the funds are set aside for such projects.

Potential state laws barring municipal broadband networks

In addition, jurisdictions in many of the same states that will be eligible to receive block grants under the rural infrastructure program would be prohibited from spending those funds on broadband projects, as they have laws in the books banning public funds from being spent to build or operate municipal broadband networks.

State legislatures enacted many of those laws at the behest of cable and internet providers, which often lobby for municipal broadband bans out of fears that such networks would cut into their customer base.

As to why the Trump administration’s plan lacked any specific focus on broadband networks or whether it would copy the ARRA’s inclusion of a “dig once” requirement to mandate that federally-funded projects include features to facilitate broadband deployment – including conduits in road projects – neither the White House nor the National Economic Council responded to queries on the subject by our deadline.

(Photo of Donald Trump in October 2016 by Gage Skidmore used with permission.)

 

 

 

 

Andrew Feinberg is the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined BroadbandBreakfast.com in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at BroadbandBreakfast.com from its founding in 2008 to 2010, first as a Reporter and then as Deputy Editor. He also covered the White House for Russia's Sputnik News from the beginning of the Trump Administration until he was let go for refusing to use White House press briefings to promote conspiracy theories, and later documented the experience in a story which set off a chain of events leading to Sputnik being forced to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Andrew's work has appeared in such publications as The Hill, Politico, Communications Daily, Washington Internet Daily, Washington Business Journal, The Sentinel Newspapers, FastCompany.TV, Mashable, and Silicon Angle.

Satellite

LEO Satellite Technology Should Be in All Schools, Gigabit Libraries Network Says

Satellites, at the very least, can act as backup connections, webinar heard.

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Don Means from the Gigabit Libraries Network

October 21, 2021 – Low earth orbit satellites, which are expected to help connect a portion of people who live in remote regions of the country, should be available to all libraries – even if it’s just for redundancy, the director of Gigabit Libraries Network said Thursday.

Don Means, the director of the organization that has a deal with SpaceX’s Starlink beta service to connect a “handful” of libraries, said the technology can be used as backup in the event of a disaster.

“We think this should be in every library, even if it’s a place that has a connection – this would be very valuable as a backup because consider any kind of lights out scenario in a community,” Means said. “With this system, it bypasses the local infrastructure, and if you have a power source and you have a [satellite] dish, you’re connected.”

Earlier this month, Means said libraries will need various ways to stay connected and provide access to public Wi-Fi. While the “cheapest, most equitable, most economical way to connect every community with next generation broadband is to run fiber to all of the 17,000 libraries,” Means said previously, other solutions will need to be considered where geography doesn’t allow for a direct fiber connection.

The LEO constellation is unique compared to other kinds of satellites because it hovers closer to earth, theoretically meaning it provides better connectivity and lower latency, or the time it takes for the devices to communicate with the network.

The House is waiting to vote on an infrastructure bill that will pour billions into broadband. People have debated what kinds of technology the money should go toward, with some arguing for hard wiring and others saying wireless technologies have a space at the table.

Despite having a deal with Starlink, Means said he encourages LEO satellite technology in general and not just Starlink in particular.

“We’re not advocates or agents for Starlink,” Means said, “it’s just they’re the first ones out there with this technology. There are others coming…this is a new thing, a burgeoning thing.”

Starlink said this summer it had shipped 100,000 terminals to customers.

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FCC

Housing, Public Interest Groups Oppose Multitenant Exclusivity Agreements

The FCC is looking at how to promote broadband competition and access in buildings.

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Photo of Jenna Leventoff from Internet Law & Policy Foundry

WASHINGTON, October 21, 2021 – Opponents of exclusivity arrangements that give tenants of multitenant buildings less choice of internet service provider are urging the Federal Communications Commission to eliminate all manifestations of these contracts that they say harms competition and locks landlords into burdensome long-term contracts.

While the FCC has previously banned exclusive access agreements that granted a single provider sole access to a building, it did not do so for exclusive wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements. That means third party service providers cannot share the building wires with the telecom with that privilege and cannot market their services to the building’s residents.

The FCC launched a comment period in September to field arguments about what to do with these holdout issues that gave priority to ISPs. In an early submission, the internet and television association NCTA said the commission should deny all broadband providers exclusive access to these buildings, but not exclusive wiring agreements.

Internet and competitive networks association INCOMPAS said in its submission that the competitive environment has continued to suffer due to these exclusive deals and, in the case of retail shopping centers, their deals have been extended over the “last several years.”

It is asking for a complete ban on the wiring, marketing and revenue sharing arrangements, which they say “make it tougher for new entrants to effectively compete in MTEs.

“Competitive providers are still asked to participate in revenue sharing arrangements or are routinely denied access to MTEs because of exclusive wiring or marketing agreements,” INCOMPAS said, adding consumers and businesses “lose out on the faster speeds, lower pricing, and better customer service that competitors offer.”

Public Knowledge similarly said there is a lack of competition emerging from these practices that is increasing prices and restricting choice for tenants.

“Although the FCC has banned explicit exclusive agreements in multi-tenant environments (MTEs) such as apartment, condos, and office buildings, landlords and internet service providers have exploited loopholes to nevertheless create de facto monopolies in buildings,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge.

The group is asking for a ban on “all types” of these arrangements that “negatively impact consumer choice, ensuring all ISPs have access to a building’s wiring regardless of the owner, creating a ‘rocket docket’ to quickly adjudicate supposed violations, and creating a single regulatory regime for both commercial and residential MTEs.”

In a joint submission on Wednesday, Consolidated Communications Holdings and Ziply Fiber said they “often confront such anti-competitive agreements,” with revenue sharing and marketing arrangements being the most “prevalent and troublesome.

“In practice, these agreements frequently work together as a complete bar to competing providers, giving the incumbent broadband provider a de facto exclusive service agreement with respect to an MTE,” the submission said, alleging MTE owners will “explicitly cite their lucrative revenue sharing agreements with an existing provider as their reason for not allowing our companies to access their buildings” and so to not to lose out on that compensation.

Harm on building owners

For the Stewards of Affordable Housing for the Future, exclusive wiring arrangements have not only limited choice for residents, but it has allegedly locked housing providers into “long-term onerous contracts that prohibit them from pursuing connectivity solutions, such as owner-provided broadband, at their properties.”

Members of the affordable housing group are recommending the FCC impose “reasonable standards” on such agreements, which require ISPs to offer low-cost programs or owner provided broadband at a competitive cost and give landlords an option to exit or renegotiate a contract after a certain time.

The FCC’s look into the issue comes after a bill, introduced on July 30 by Rep. Yvette Clarke, D-New York, outlined plans to address exclusivity agreements between residential units and service providers, which sees providers lock out other carriers from buildings and leaving residents with only one option for internet.

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Infrastructure

Federal Communications Commission Dispenses $544 Million in Rural Broadband Funds

Funds targeted towards internet providers in areas with poor digital access across 19 states.

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FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel

WASHINGTON, October 20, 2021 – The Federal Communications Commission said Wednesday that it would authorize another $554 million for expansion of broadband service through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund.

The funding announcement represented the finalization of a relatively small portion of the funding awarded as part of $9.3 billion granted in the first phase of the RDOF reverse auction in October and November 2020.

Together with other recent press announcements dribbling out details of RDOF awards, Wednesday’s news puts the FCC’s awards at just more than $1 billion of the $9.3 billion originally awarded at auction.

The FCC, which says that it aims to place broadband infrastructure in areas where it is not currently available, denied LTD Broadband’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline to be designated as an Eligible Telecommunication Carrier in Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota. Becoming an ETC was a necessary prerequisite to receiving RDOF funds.

The agency also denied NW Fiber’s petition seeking waiver of the deadline for submission of a post-auction “long form” application.

With the latest wave of funding, 11 internet providers will be able to bring fiber-to-home gigabit broadband service to more than 180,000 locations across 19 states.

Michigan and Georgia were the states that received the most funding in this wave with $188 and $149 million, respectively. The FCC has cited broadband expansion as an even more necessary priority since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

“Broadband is an essential service and during the pandemic we’ve seen just how critical it is for families, schools, hospitals and businesses to have affordable internet access,” said Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.

The FCC also said that they were working to “clean up” the program and address some of the controversial aspects of RDOF funding decisions.

These decisions included:

  • Sending letters to 197 applicants concerning areas where there was evidence of existing service or questions of waste. Bidders have already chosen not to pursue support in 5,094 census blocks in response to the Commission’s letters.
  • Denying waivers for winning bidders that have not made appropriate efforts to secure state approvals or prosecute their applications.  These bidders would have otherwise received more than $344 million.
  • Pulishing a list of areas where providers had defaulted, thereby making those places available for other broadband funding opportunities.
  • Conducting an exhaustive technical, financial, and legal review of all winning bidders.

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