Connect with us


Trump Administrations Unveils Details of Infrastructure Incentives, Including Spending on Rural Broadband



WASHINGTON, February 12, 2018 – President Donald Trump on Monday unveiled details of his plan to spur $1.5 trillion in new investment to revitalize the nation’s crumbling infrastructure with a combination of $200 billion worth of matching funds and block grants to be funded from to-be-determined budget savings.

“We’re going to get the roads in great shape,” Trump said. ” Washington no longer will be a roadblock to progress.”

The specifics of the plan, detailed in a 55-page legislative outline, largely match the details of a widely-reported document outlining the proposal’s “principles,” which outline initiatives to reduce the time it takes to complete the federal permitting process for infrastructure projects, and sets out several different programs under which the $200 billion in funding.

The $200 billion in funding is being paid for through budgetary savings rather than from a dedicated funding stream like increasing the gas tax, which funds the federal highway trust fund. The funds will be distributed to states and localities, in keeping with the Trump administration’s desire for local control of infrastructure spending.

Plan includes an ‘Infrastructure Incentives Program’

Broadband projects will be eligible for the plan’s “Infrastructure Incentives Program.” –This portion of the fund will account for $100 billion in spending, or half of the promised $200 billion. It will be made through matching funds to be distributed to states and localities.

The administration’s thinking has been that state and local officials, rather than the federal government, best understand their communities’ infrastructure needs.

According to the White House outline, the program “would provide for targeted Federal investments, encourage innovation, streamline project delivery, and help transform the way infrastructure is designed, built and maintained” by distributing matching grants to the jurisdictions to which the grants are awarded under agreements in which the applying jurisdictions would lay out “express project milestones.”

Distribution of the funds would be conditioned on whether or not the progress of those projects meet the agreed-upon milestones within identified time frames.

Wide class of infrastructure projects would be eligible under the program

A wide-ranging class of infrastructure projects would be eligible for grants under the incentives program, for which applications would be solicited every six months, and under which funds would be distributed by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT), United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Eligible projects would include work on “surface transportation and airports, passenger rail, ports and waterways, flood control, water supply, hydropower, water resources, drinking water facilities, wastewater facilities, stormwater facilities, and brownfield and superfund sites.”

Projects already underway would also be eligible if they began during a three-year “look-back period,” which would be defined as “the time preceding the project sponsor’s completed application during which the new revenue generation was implemented.”

Broadband projects will be eligible for funding under two other parts of the plan

Broadband projects will be eligible for funding under two other parts of the Trump plan, specifically the Rural Infrastructure and Transformative Projects programs.

Broadband projects can be funded through the plan’s Rural Infrastructure Program – to which $50 billion will be allocated – will direct funds to rural states. The funds will be distributed through a statutory “rural formula” which will be calculated “based on rural lane miles and rural population adjusted to reflect policy objectives.” The formula will set out a statutory minimum and maximum amount of funds to which each rural state will be entitled.

During the White House infrastructure roundtable, Trump took a moment to acknowledge the need for infrastructure improvements in rural America, and lamented that in years past, “the rural folks have been left out.”

The vast majority of the $50 billion – 80 percent of it – will be distributed in the form of block grants to be controlled by the governors of recipient states, who will have discretion as to the kinds of projects the grants will go toward. Still, they will have to consult with designated federal agencies depending on the kinds of projects they choose to fund and state directors of rural development.

The remaining 20 percent will be allocated to Rural Performance Grants within eligible asset classes, according to specified criteria to be determined.

Tribal government programs, and ‘transformation projects,’ will also be eligible for funding

Tribal governments will be able to receive a portion of the funds which will be specifically set aside for them and distributed by the Secretaries of Transportation and the Interior through the Tribal Transportation Program. A process will be created in consultation with the various sovereign tribal governments. The needs of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands. will be addressed through dedicated funding as well.

The Transformative Projects program – for which $20 billion will be allocated – is also envisioned as a funding source for broadband projects, and will provide both funding and technical assistance for “bold, innovative, and transformative infrastructure projects that could dramatically improve infrastructure,” according to the White House.

The plan defines “transformative projects” as those for that will have the effect of “significantly improving performance, from the perspective of availability, safety, reliability, frequency and service speed; substantially reducing user costs for services; introducing new types of services; and improving services based on other related metrics.”

This program, the White House outline claims, would “fundamentally transform the way infrastructure is delivered or operated” by funding projects that are “ambitious, exploratory and ground-breaking project ideas that have significantly more risk than standard infrastructure projects, but offer a much larger reward profile.”

The $20 billion in funds will available under three separate tracks – demonstration projects, project planning and capital construction — be awarded by a selection committee to be composed of representatives of relevant federal agencies and chaired by the Secretary of Commerce after applications for funding are reviewed by interagency evaluation panels “comprised of individuals from the applicable [f]ederal agencies.”

Awardees would enter a partnership agreement with the federal government, which would specify the terms and conditions of the awards.

In addition to funding, applicants for the Transformative Project Program can also seek technical assistance from the federal government.

Not the first foray into broadband for rural America

The programs announced Monday are not the Trump administration’s first foray into making broadband more available to Americans living in rural areas, the importance of which has been previously acknowledged by the president himself.

In January 2018, Trump addressed the American Farm Bureau convention in Nashville, Tennessee, and signed two executive actions meant to facilitate rural broadband deployment 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 underserved communities.

Positive reaction to the Trump administration plan from FCC Chairman Ajit Pai

The open-ended nature of the Trump plan – which accounts for the lack of dedicated funding for broadband projects – is a marked departure from the approach taken in his predecessor’s major infrastructure legislation, the 2009 American Investment and Recovery Act.

Envisioned by the Obama administration as an economic stimulus to jump-start the nation’s economy after the 2008 financial crisis, the Recovery Act took several steps to increase broadband deployment in both urban and rural areas, and in doing so, close the digital divide, through the expenditure of $7.2 billion in loans and grants by the Departments of Commerce and Agriculture.

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.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai praised the plan in a statement Monday, calling it “a welcome and strong call to action.”

“Too often, regulatory barriers make it harder and more expensive to build out broadband than it needs to be – to the detriment of American consumers,” Pai said. “I stand ready to work with the administration and Congress to turn this plan into a reality as we continue to bridge the digital divide and extend 5G digital opportunity to all Americans.”

Different approaches to broadband infrastructure from Obama and Trump

Even though the Trump plan appears to give short shrift to broadband projects when compared with his predecessor’s, a White House official told that the lack of specificity is a feature rather than a bug in keeping with the president’s desire to put the maximum amount of control in the hands of state and local officials.

The president’s plan makes a point to shift away from dictating from Washington what communities must spend federal infrastructure dollars on,” the official said. “So while there will be dedicated funding for rural areas in the package, it is not specifically required to be used for broadband.”

The official again stressed that the decision to not specifically direct any funding under the plan to increase broadband deployment doesn’t indicate a lack of interest on the part of the Trump administration. “We envision there being no limit to how much of the rural funding can be spent on broadband,” the official said.

(Photo of rural road by Max Pixel used with permission.)

Andrew Feinberg was the White House Correspondent and Managing Editor for Breakfast Media. He rejoined in late 2016 after working as a staff writer at The Hill and as a freelance writer. He worked at 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.


FTC Funding Request Harshly Criticized by Republican Lawmakers

The agency’s aggressive approach to antitrust under Chair Lina Khan has sparked controversy.



Screenshot of FTC Chair Lina Khan courtesy of the House Energy and Commerce Committee

WASHINGTON, April 19, 2023 — House Republicans expressed skepticism about the Federal Trade Commission’s requested budget increase during a Tuesday hearing, accusing the agency of overstepping its jurisdiction in pursuit of a progressive enforcement agenda.

The hearing of the Innovation, Data and Commerce Subcommittee showcased sharp partisan tension over Chair Lina Khan’s aggressive approach to antitrust — heightened by the fact that both Republican seats on the five-member agency remain vacant.

Khan, alongside Democratic Commissioners Rebecca Slaughter and Alvaro Bedoya, argued that the $160 million budget increase was necessary for maintaining existing enforcement efforts as well as “activating additional authorities that Congress has given us.”

But Republican lawmakers seemed unwilling to grant the requested funds, which would bring the agency’s total annual budget to $590 million.

“You seem to be squandering away the resources that we currently give you in favor of pursuing unprecedented progressive legal theories,” said Subcommittee Chair Gus Bilirakis, R-Fla.

“What is clearly needed — before Congress considers any new authorities or funding — are reforms, more guardrails and increased transparency to ensure you are accountable to the American people,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J., ranking member of the full committee, defended the funding request by saying the FTC has “one of the broadest purviews of any federal agency: fighting deceptive and unfair business practices and anti-competitive conduct across the entire economy.”

“Managing this portfolio with less than fourteen hundred employees is no small feat,” Pallone said, noting that the FTC currently has fewer employees than it did 45 years ago.

FTC highlights potential AI threats, other tech developments

FTC staff and Democratic lawmakers have been flagging concerns about understaffing at the agency for years, arguing that rapid technological and market changes have increased the scope and complexity of the agency’s role.

“The same lawyers who ensure that social media companies have robust privacy and data security programs are making sure labels on bed linens are correct,” testified former Chief Technologist Ashkan Soltani at a Senate hearing in 2021.

In their written testimony, commissioners detailed several emerging priorities related to technological developments — such as combatting online harms to children and protecting sensitive consumer data shared with health websites — and emphasized the corresponding need for increased resources.

The agency is also preparing to pursue violations related to artificial intelligence technologies, Khan said, as the “turbocharging of fraud and scams that could be enabled by these tools are a serious concern.”

But several tech-focused trade groups, including the Computer & Communications Industry Association, have signaled opposition to FTC expansion.

“The FTC can best carry out its mission if it heeds the committee’s call to return its focus to consumer needs and consumer fraud — rather than pursuing cases rooted in novel theories against American companies,” CCIA President Matt Schruers said after the hearing.

The Consumer Technology Association urged lawmakers to reject the requested budget increase in a letter sent Friday.

“In 2022, agency data shows consumers reported losing almost $8.8 billion to scams… Despite this mounting caseload of fraud, identity theft and related cases, the FTC appears more interested in attacking U.S. tech companies, to the detriment of consumers who have benefitted from an unparalleled explosion of innovative, online-based products and services,” CTA President Gary Shapiro wrote.

Continue Reading


Epic Games Settles with FTC for $520 Million

Epic’s $275 million penalty for alleged COPPA violation is the largest to date, according to the agency.



Photo of Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., cropped, in July 2017 by Senate Democrats used with permission

WASHINGTON, December 19, 2022 – The Federal Trade Commission and Epic Games, creator of the popular video game Fortnite, have reached a pair of settlements, totaling $520 million, to resolve allegations that the developer violated the data privacy of child users and deceptively pushed in-app purchases, the agency announced Monday.

The FTC alleges that Epic violated the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act by collecting the personal data of players under 13 years of age without properly notifying their parents or obtaining parental consent. In addition, the watchdog says children’s game settings by default allowed voice and text communication with other players, exposing them to harm.

“Children and teens have been bullied, threatened, harassed, and exposed to dangerous and psychologically traumatizing issues such as suicide while on Fortnite,” the FTC said.

Epic agreed to pay a $275 million penalty for its alleged COPPA violation, which is the largest penalty for breaking an FTC rule imposed to date, according to the agency. Epic agreed to the second penalty, $245 million, to resolve allegations that it manipulated users into purchasing in-game content through a confusing interface.

“Statutes written decades ago don’t specify how gaming ecosystems should operate. The laws have not changed, but their application has evolved and long-standing industry practices are no longer enough,” Epic said in an online post. “We accepted this agreement because we want Epic to be at the forefront of consumer protection and provide the best experience for our players.”

As a part of the settlements, Epic neither admitted nor denied the claims made against it.

The settlements immediately drew praise: “The FTC’s lawsuit against Epic proves we need stronger online privacy protections for children and teens,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in statement Monday. “Kids were bullied, harassed, and threated because Epic designed its games to let them communicate with strangers from all over the world. It’s time for Congress to step up for kids and protect them from online harms and to make sure we have a stronger FTC to enforce against bad actors.”

Continue Reading


FTC Forum Hears Evidence that U.S. Should Follow European Union Privacy Model

The agency is proposing to use its own authority to regulate tech platforms for their ‘commercial surveillance’.



Photo of Digital Content Next CEO Jason Kint from C-SPAN

WASHINGTON September 15, 2022 – The Federal Trade Commission should consider adopting standards established by the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation to force Big Tech platforms to consent to the use of their user’s personal information, according to the CEO of a digital content trade organization.

The FTC proposed last month to use its authority under Section 18 of the FTC Act to bring “commercial surveillance” – the act of entities collecting personal information and selling them to third-party data brokers – under its authority to further regulate technology platforms. Section 18 is a statute of the FTC Act that grants the commission the authority to implement trade regulation rules for businesses that use tactics that are considered “unfair” or harmful to consumers.

Digital Content Next CEO Jason Kint said during an FTC public hearing on the matter on September 8 that the EU’s GDPR model provides an established practice of requiring companies and organizations to get consent to the use of their data in these contexts.

“Having a pop-up come up [for consent] every time you visit the site…that’s entirely in line with users’ expectations,” Kint said. To comply with GDPR principles, websites shown to users in the United States must ask visitors if they consent to the collection of their data in part to cater certain products to them.

“The user doesn’t want it to happen where their data is being tracked by third parties,” Kint said.

“So, if you’re the party that they’re choosing to interact with for service, providing them that data is very different.”

In August, the FTC announced an rulemaking to consider commercial surveillance as a Section 18 violation of the FTC Act. It its notice seeking comment, the FTC asked questions about what companies should disclose, who would administer the disclosure agreements, and if the FTC should impose limitations on the mechanisms companies use to hide their surveillance practices.

On July 20, the Senate Commerce Committee passed comprehensive privacy legislation a restricting collection and transfer of personal data of U.S. citizens without consent.

The measure has not yet passed the House, but in responding to the August announcement, Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said that it is the responsibility of Congress, not the FTC, “to pass comprehensive federal privacy legislation.”

There are currently more than 120,000 comments on this issue. The FTC is still collecting public statements on this issue until October 21.

Continue Reading

Signup for Broadband Breakfast News

Broadband Breakfast Research Partner