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Opportunity Zones Developing Quickly, Say Trump Advisers

Elijah Labby

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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.

White House

Biden Signs ‘Buy American’ Executive Order to Bolster U.S. Manufacturing

Tim White

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Photo of President Joe Biden, used with permission by the Commonwealth Club

January 25, 2021—As one of his first actions made in the Oval Office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Monday aimed at ensuring American-made products are favored when purchases are made by federal agencies.

“Federal law requires government agencies to give preferences to American firms,” the press release reads, “however, these preferences have not always been implemented consistently or effectively.”

The new executive order—one of many signed by Biden during his first week in office—is intended to tighten restrictions and close loopholes that have allowed agencies to waive those requirements, and direct agencies to utilize the Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a public-private partnership that serves small and medium-size manufacturing.

It will also create a new “Director of Made-in-America” position in the Office of Management and Budget to oversee the implementation of the order.

“I don’t buy for one second that the vitality of American manufacturing is a thing of the past. American manufacturing was the arsenal of democracy in World War II and it must be part of the engine of American prosperity now,” Biden said, speaking during a press conference ahead of signing the order. “That means we are going to use taxpayers’ money to rebuild America. We’ll buy American products and support American jobs, union jobs.

“We will invest hundreds of billions of dollars in buying American products and materials to modernize our infrastructure and our competitive strength will increase in the competitive world,” he said.

Importantly, Biden intends to extend the provisions to IT products, which are currently exempt from these rules. This will follow a review. He emphasized the importance of using US-manufactured steel and technology while rebuilding infrastructure to be climate resilient.

Some economic and policy experts disagree with the “Buy American” effort, as reported by the New York Times, because they say it could raise prices for the government, reduce the availability of goods, or cost American jobs.

Federal efforts to bolster U.S. manufacturing date back to 1933 when the Buy American Act went into effect. There have been various other federal regulations since then, including recent executive orders by former-President Donald Trump.

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White House

‘My Whole Soul is in This,’ Joe Biden Says During Inauguration as 46th President of the United States

Tim White

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January 20, 2021—“We must look forward to the future in our uniquely American, bold and optimistic way,” said President Joe Biden during his inauguration on Wednesday.

Recalling the words Abraham Lincoln uttered after writing the Emancipation Proclamation, Biden said “my whole soul is in this.” “The American story does not depend on just one of us, but on all of us,” Biden continued,” we the people who seek a more perfect union.”

Biden referred to his inauguration as a small event eclipsed by the country’s need for unity in a chaotic time. Looking back on the riot that invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, which marked President Donald Trump’s last days in office with disorder, Biden said “Here we stand just days after a riotous mob thought they could silence the voice of democracy. It did not happen. Not today. Not ever.”

In the midst of a pandemic that according to the Center for Disease Control has taken the lives of 400,000 Americans, Biden called on Americans to rise to the challenge in what he called this “winter of peril,” saying that few people have faced more difficulty than the world does now. As his first act as the new president, he asked for a moment of silent prayer for the lives lost to the COVID-19 virus.

Confronting the pandemic is at the forefront of the new White House administration, but major technology issues face the Biden administration.

In the aftermath of a riot fueled by social media, Section 230 of the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which grants immunity to social media platforms for content posted by their users, has once again taken center stage. It already faces scrutiny from both sides of the political aisle.

In further investigation of big technology companies, the Justice Department and several state attorneys general recently filed antitrust lawsuits against Google and Facebook, alleging the companies use anti-competitive business practices. The suits now become those of the Biden administration.

The digital divide between those with high-speed broadband access and those without continues to put pressure on the incoming administration, as the gap has become more apparent than ever during a time when many schools are closed. Part of the challenge is accurate broadband mapping, ensuring that policy is accurate and addresses the right needs.

Seeking resolutions to the challenges of the new administration, the Internet Innovation Alliance, a broad-based coalition of business and non-profit organizations that dedicated to improving broadband access across America, issued a statement congratulating Biden on his inauguration and encouraging cooperation between the public and private sectors, stating that “universal broadband is an essential part of the solution.”

Notably not in attendance at the inauguration was former-President Donald Trump, who took his final flight on Air Force One to Florida early-Wednesday morning, skipping the historic tradition of current presidents accepting the new president as they are sworn in.

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Building Better Broadband Underscores Joe Biden’s Top Policy Initiatives

Jericho Casper

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Photo of Joe Biden from August 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

January 5, 2021 — The digital divide afflicting the United States has become even more apparent throughout the pandemic, repositioning the issue of universal broadband access to the forefront of many Washington policy agendas, including that of President-elect Joe Biden.

The Biden presidential campaign’s website early on included a plan for rural America that highlighted how the COVID-19 crisis deepened many of the challenges that were already confronting Americans, including “lack of access to health care, unreliable broadband, and the chronic under funding of public schools.”

The plan further states that “Americans everywhere need universal, reliable, affordable, and high-speed internet to do their jobs, participate equally in remote school learning and stay connected” and promises to “expand broadband, or wireless broadband via 5G, to every American.”

Biden’s top four priorities convey an urgent need for advanced infrastructure

Of the challenges facing the incoming administration of Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, it seems clear that universal broadband is critical to each of them.

Biden’s campaign website specifically lists universal broadband as a priority in bolstering economic recovery, fighting climate change, and advancing racial economic equity. Universal access to broadband internet also underscores  the fourth top policy initiative listed on the Biden campaign website, battling COVID-19, although the incoming administration fails to link broadband as a precondition for this priority.

As a presidential candidate, Biden called broadband a tool to put Americans to work during a visit to Hermantown, Minnesota.

The campaign’s plan for economic recovery specifically links the country’s financial recovery to mobilizing American work forces in the construction of  “modern, sustainable infrastructure” and “sustainable engines of growth,” connecting universal broadband to building a clean energy economy, addressing the climate crisis, and creating millions of “good-paying, union jobs.”

Much of the Biden administration’s plan for universal broadband is tied to climate change initiatives. Biden’s climate change priorities website calls for building clean energy grids powered by broadband internet to lay “a new foundation for sustainable growth.”

Biden has promised that as president, he will make bold investments in American industry and innovation to ensure the vitality of American manufacturing is not a thing of the past. One way the President-elect could achieve this goal is by adapting his administration’s policy priorities to recognize the centrality of universal broadband access and adoption to each of them.

Broadband recognized as central to rural progress

The Biden and Harris campaign has repeatedly invoked the desire to launch a wide-ranging infrastructure package to jump start economic recovery. Early on, the campaign called for billions in federal grants to help connect rural areas to the internet as part of its ambitions.

Biden’s plan for increasing rural connectivity specifically references spending $20 billion in expanding rural broadband infrastructure, tripling funding for Community Connect broadband grants to expand access, and reforming the Lifeline program, which subsidizes internet and phone services for low-income Americans. 

One way the President-elect could achieve this goal is by adapting his administration’s policy priorities to recognize the centrality of universal access and adoption to each of them.

Building better broadband underscores racial economic equity

Biden’s transition website recognizes that digital equity is at the core of achieving racial economic equity, a further priority of the administration. In his plan for racial equity, Biden pledges to invest $20 billion in digital infrastructure to support historically Black colleges and universities and other minority serving institutions.

Biden’s racial economic equity plan further calls for closing the digital divide at large, as the gulf between broadband internet haves-and-have nots has long impacted Black, Hispanic, tribal, and other historically marginalized households.

Biden’s racial economic equity plan directly ties a lack of proficiency in digital tech to having a hindrance on an individual’s opportunity for economic mobility.

Historically marginalized groups are less likely to have access to broadband internet. While 79 percent of white households have broadband internet, only 66 percent of Black households and 61 percent of Hispanic households do, according to research from the Pew Research Center. Further, only 52 percent of Native Americans who live on tribal land have a home broadband subscription.

Biden’s plan claims it will ensure that U.S. infrastructure investments work to address disparities in access to utilities such as clean water, accessible transportation, connectivity to high-speed internet, and more, “which often occur along lines of race and class.”

The “digital divide needs to be closed everywhere, from lower-income urban schools to rural America, to many older Americans as well as those living on tribal lands,” reads the plan. Biden’s racial economic equity plan claims marginalized groups will further benefit from the $20 billion he plans to invest in broadband infrastructure in rural America.

Better broadband is necessary in fighting COVID-19 and preparing for future pandemics

Research finding that American’s with high-speed internet were less likely to leave their homes after shelter-in-place orders went into effect, recently published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, reveals that universal access is at the core of battling COVID-19.

Researchers discovered that income is correlated with differences in the ability to stay at home, and further, that the unequal diffusion of high-speed internet in homes across regions drives much of the observed effect of income inequality.

The combination of having both high income and high-speed Internet appears to be the biggest driver of one’s propensity to stay at home. Therefore, the digital divide explains much about inequalities role in people’s ability to self-isolate.

So, what exactly is required to “Build Back Better”?

Based on the priorities listed on Biden’s transition website, efforts to construct a universal broadband internet infrastructure, train digital work forces of the future, and fuel the provision of resources and tools to encourage universal adoption of broadband, should be prime concerns of the president-to-be.

‘Universal broadband’ mentioned, but more specifics lacking

Still, the few mentions of broadband on the Biden-Harris transition website are largely lumped in with infrastructure generally and environmental action. Indeed, mention of the phrase “universal broadband” on Biden’s transition website ends there.

The Biden administration has made clear that its main priority is battling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Yet, the transition team’s website fails to recognize the significance of universal broadband to achieving this goal.

Although an $80 billion broadband infrastructure packages was originally proposed in the House Democrat’s COVID-19 relief bill, rhetoric surrounding a large infrastructure package of the sort has largely died down since the onslaught of the pandemic

Will ‘universal broadband’ claims amount to anything?

While the Biden administration has utilized the phrase ‘universal broadband’ in multiple policy plans and on more than one occasion, no concrete policy proposals have followed.

Critics have argued that, so far, Biden’s slim “universal broadband” statements differ little from outgoing President Donald Trump’s policies.

Based on a lack of tangible policy initiatives, it would be astute to remain cautiously optimistic about the efficacy of the Biden administration’s broadband plan.

Director of the community broadband networks initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance Christopher Mitchell, displayed this cautious optimism in an interview with State Scoop, saying though the proposed policies are somewhat vague, “that broadband was mentioned in so many capacities is encouraging.”

“It wasn’t like there was just a section where it said ‘broadband is important,’” Mitchell said, “but there was a discussion about broadband’s role throughout — in terms of rural economic development, but also schools, and racial inequity. It takes seriously how important broadband is.”

Biden made more specific pledges in a series of meetings with the supporters of Democratic Party primary opponent Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, in July. During that time, Biden seemed to be in favor of giving federal money to support municipal broadband initiatives.

At the time, Biden restated his support for removing barriers to municipally-owned broadband networks, of which there are more than 331 in the U.S. today. About 22 states have outlawed municipal broadband outright, leaving residents with fewer alternatives to corporate internet service providers, which can create broadband “deserts,” or areas lacking in capacity.

Yet, the recommendations from the task force aren’t direct, actionable plans issued by Biden’s campaign.

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