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White House

Opportunity Zones Developing Quickly, Say Trump Advisers

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Photo of Scott Turner, executive director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, by the White House used with permission

May 18, 2020 — Opportunity Zones are performing well, said several Presidential Cabinet members in a Monday meeting.

Opportunity Zones, low-income areas where private corporations can receive tax benefits to stimulate economic development, were created in 2018 as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. There are currently Opportunity Zones in all 50 states.

Members of the cabinet spoke to President Donald Trump about the zones and said that their development was impressive, in spite of the economic turmoil caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Scott Turner, Executive Director of the White House Opportunity and Revitalization Council, said that the efforts would continue amidst the current recovering economy.

“Yes, COVID is here, but our mission and the spirit is still the same, and now we’re just going to ramp it up,” he said.

The positive report on Opportunity Zones came the same day as Wall Street had its best day in six weeks, prompted in part by promising initial results in a vaccine trial.

Still, full economic recovery is expected to take some time, with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell saying in a CBS interview Sunday that “we won’t get back to where we were by the end of the year, it’s not likely to happen.”

Brooke Rollins, Director of the Domestic Policy Council, said that the Opportunity Zone efforts were among other successes of the administration.

“In just a few years,” she said, “we had the lowest poverty rate in the history of our country for our African American population, our Hispanic population, our veteran population, our high school graduate population, our people with disabilities.”

Trump said that increased economic development had enabled the U.S. markets to bounce back from the virus’s effect on the economy, and for healthcare to thrive.

“Not only are the markets up tremendously, but we’ve had tremendously good and positive information on therapeutics, on cures, and on vaccines,” he said.

“Home prices in designated Opportunity Zones around the country keep showing strong gains, tracking the housing market boom now in its ninth year. Nearly half did even better in the first quarter of 2020 than the nation as a whole – a notable trend in some of the country’s most distressed neighborhoods,” said Todd Teta, chief product officer with ATTOM Data Solutions.

“As with other recent ATTOM reports, this one needs to be taken in the context of the looming impact of the Coronavirus pandemic, which could cut the legs out from under the housing market,” Teta added.

Net Neutrality

Biden Signs Executive Order on Net Neutrality, Broadband Pricing Policy and Big Tech Merger Scrutiny

Executive order would kickoff new antitrust and net neutrality regulations.

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Photo of Joe Biden in July 2021 from the South China Morning Press

July 9, 2021—President Joe Biden on Friday announced his intent to sign an executive order addressing an array of 72 initiatives, including net neutrality, and generally taking aim at big telecom and tech companies to address competition in the economy.

The White House released a fact sheet on the goals and the actions to be taken to achieve them.

The order would, among other things, task the Federal Communications Commission with reinstituting pre-Trump administration net neutrality rules.

Net neutrality refers to the concept that broadband providers must not block or throttle the content that consumers seek to access on the internet, or provide preferential access to content by business partners.

Under former President Barack Obama, the FCC in February 2015 enacted net neutrality rules promoting what his administration called “the open, fair, and free internet as we know it today.”

Broadband pricing policy

Biden’s order also tackled broadband policy and the digital divide more broadly.

It pointed to the 200 million Americans that live in regions with only one or two internet service providers and stated that this contributes to inflated internet service prices up to five times higher than in areas with more than two ISPs.

The order also condemned relationships between landlords and broadband providers that block new providers from expanding or improving broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved areas, and it urged the FCC to enact rules to ban such deals and relationships.

To improve price transparency, Biden also urged the FCC to implement a “Broadband Nutrition Label” and require that all broadband providers report their service plans and rates to the FCC for evaluation.

Additionally, the plan directed the FCC to address unreasonably high, early termination fees enacted by broadband providers. The Biden administration argues that these fees are often in place only to discourage consumers from switching to what may be a superior internet service.

Big tech a target, too

In addition to broadband policy, the order would also take aim at data collection and mergers by big tech companies. The factsheet specifically mentioned that the order would tackle “kill acquisitions” designed to stifle perceived competitive threats to tech companies and pointed out that federal regulatory bodies have not done enough to prevent these mergers.

The administration would adopt a policy to greater scrutinize potential mergers, according to the White House fact sheet.

Additionally, the administration also condemned data collection policies by big tech companies, pointing to business models completely dependent on harvesting of sensitive consumer data. To address this, he tasked the Federal Trade Commission to draft new rules on consumer surveillance and data collection.

Net neutrality advocate at the FCC

FCC Acting Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel has been a longtime advocate for strong net neutrality laws. Though her critics have argued that there have been precious few examples of companies throttling their consumers internet speed, Rosenworcel has supported initiatives that would classify internet service providers as “common carriers,” and would forbid them from interfering in a user’s internet speed or the content they view.

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Infrastructure

Vice President Kamala Harris Compares Administration’s Broadband Effort to Rural Electrification

The Biden administration aims to support broadband as the New Deal measure provided electricity in isolated rural areas.

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Screenshot from the White House listening session on broadband

May 24, 2021 – Highlighting the importance of broadband to the president, Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday compared the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to what the Biden administration aims to do with expanding internet infrastructure.

Harris said that the New Deal-era measure, signed by President Franklin Roosevelt almost exactly 85 years ago on May 20, 1936, provided federal support for the installation of electrical distribution systems for isolated rural areas of the United States.

It was necessary, she said, because private power companies were unwilling or unable to create an energy infrastructure at a reasonable cost.

“We must act in the same way,” she said.

Six panelists shared their experiences with broadband infrastructure at the administration event. The discussion emphasized the vitality and the need for reliable connectivity for telehealth, remote working, and small business having access to betters speeds in order to survive.

Breaking down barriers to broadband

Harris explained the three barriers to broadband infrastructure that the Biden-Harris Administration aims to overcome. These are the lack of support in rural and indigenous areas, the lack of competition and affordability, and broadband equity. Equity, she said, included both racial and income disparities with broadband.

One noteworthy panelist was Kimberly Vasquez, a student-advocate from Baltimore. She created Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society, a program that seeks to provide connectivity for communities suffering from the pandemic.

Vasquez’ family struggled to make decisions allowing her to get better internet connectivity in order to get an education, versus being able to put food on the table.

Harris said she was excited by Vasquez’ initiative and said she sympathized with her struggles. Harris asked questions to elicit answers about the how difficult it is to obtain good quality internet connectivity during the pandemic.

“We know what we need to do,” Harris said. She said the event proved the fundamental nature of broadband infrastructure. “This is doable.”

Harris concluded by saying that internet connectivity is both a civil rights and economic issue. It must be tackled to increase competition and advancement in all areas of the country.

The White House listening session is available on YouTube.

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Infrastructure

Treasury Announces Summer Deadline For Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund

$10 billion dollars are being made available to communities in need to better connect their communities.

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Photo of Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen

May 10, 2021—The Treasury Department issued a statement Monday outlining the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to address broadband access shortcomings, including setting a summer deadline for applications.

The fund is a component of the American Rescue Plan that is designed to help Americans, whether they are living in states, territories, or tribal lands. The ARP will provide $10 billion to carry out improvements to broadband infrastructure, with special attention to telehealth, telework, and distance learning within economically disadvantaged communities.

Applicants for the fund must provide a plan for how they intend to utilize potential funding, explain why their project is critical in nature, and how it will benefit un(der)served Americans.

The funds can be directed towards improving infrastructure, providing devices for telehealth and distance learning, or setting up equipment to facilitate the aforementioned goals.

Funds can also be made available to address the construction of community hubs that many municipalities established so that those without a broadband subscription can still access hotspots and devices.

The Treasury made available the Interim Final Rule for the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds. This is a separate pot of money that was designed to address many of the same goals as the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. The Treasury encouraged applicants to seek out public input in order to better explain the unique issues that are facing communities in need.

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