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Exclusive Drew Clark Column: Will the Broadband Infrastructure Deal Hold?

Many in Washington aren’t holding their breath for the broadband infrastructure deal to collapse.



WASHINGTON, July 2, 2021 – The bipartisan infrastructure agreement that President Joe Biden announced on June 24 is still standing. But many in Washington aren’t holding their breath before the deal is left to collapse.

On the macro level, the broader political problem is one of Biden’s own making. Initially, he said that he would refuse to sign any infrastructure bill that was not handed over to him along with a budget resolution. Though he has since walked back these statementsHouse Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has threatened to sink the effort, saying, “Let me be really clear on this: We will not take up a bill in the House until the Senate passes the bipartisan bill and a reconciliation bill. If there is no bipartisan bill, then we’ll just go when the Senate passes a reconciliation bill.”

On the broadband level, the negotiations don’t even appear to have begun: We know that the bipartisan group came together. The group includes Democratic moderates like Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, and Republican negotiators Rob Portman of Ohio and Mitt Romney of Utah. We know that they have agreed to $65 billion in funds for broadband.

But what we don’t know is this: How will those funds be spent? Will there be a national competition for grant applications along the lines of the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act?

Will the funds instead go to the states in the form of block grants, as appears the focus of the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act, introduced by Sens. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., Angus King, I-Maine, and Portman? Will all the funds go to a big reverse-auction of the sort contemplated by the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act of House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C.?

Is $65 billion too little, too much, or just right?

Since the deal was announced eight days ago, some broadband experts have condemned the bill’s spending as insufficient. Those more resigned to reality say that anything – or at least $65 billion – is better than nothing.

Biden had originally proposed $100 billion for broadband infrastructure as part of his “American Jobs Plan” introduced on March 31. That proposal has never been reduced to legislative language, although its draft principles included promoting higher broadband speeds, encouraging municipalities to get in broadband, and obtaining 100 percent coverage by 2030.

Republicans initially proposed a $20 billion counteroffer. That was widely seen as a non-starter.

Now that there is a deal in principle at $65 billion, former Federal Communications Commissioner Mignon Clyburn was less than enthused. Clyburn, who is Co-Chair of the competitive trade group INCOMPAS’ “BroadLand Broadband Campaign,” said that Congress must “go big and bold, or get stuck with old and slow.”

Speaking about the compromise in Holyoke, Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey stopped short of condemning it. But he said, “It is just a fraction of what we need to do. We have to think big, think bold, and match the scale of these problems.” And during a town hall meeting in Worcester, Markey stated that he hoped that the $100 billion broadband spending figure would be reestablished during the bill’s reconciliation process.

There’s that big picture political issue again! In fact, Markey has previously condemned bipartisan efforts. In May 2021,, he said that Republicans “have shown no willingness whatsoever to negotiate in good faith with Democrats to confront the intersecting crises we face.”

Tempering expectations about a $65 billion broadband boom

The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Ernesto Falcon argued that the most important component of Joe Biden’s original plan was to finance universal broadband coverage, ensuring that every American has access to the internet.

Adie Tomer, a fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program with the Brookings Institution, called the bill a “massive step in the right direction toward making long-term investments in American infrastructure.” But he said that somewhere between 50 and 75 percent of Americans will be covered by $65 billion.

Others, including critics in the cable and fixed wireless industries, have argued that to make the most of the $65 billion, broadband advocates should temper their expectations about the technologies that will be deployed.

“We can close the gap significantly, but some of the ambitions of policymakers might be too much for $65 billion,” said Ross Lieberman, senior vice president of America’s Communications Association.

The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association was one of the few trade associations to release a statement saying something – anything! – about the deal. They called it “historic.” But the trade group representing fixed wireless providers encouraged policy makers to focus efforts on getting unserved areas connected, rather than improving service in areas with some, albeit poor, connections.

WISPA has had a long-standing criticism with the current administration’s apparent implication that it wants fiber networks that are “future proof” WISPA Chairman Mark Radabaugh called this a “false economy,” in a blog post for WISPA.

Policy issues may be bigger than the billion-dollar price tag

As it stands now, however, remarkably little is known about the bipartisan framework beside the price tag.

How will the funds be disbursed? Will higher broadband speed be required? Will fiber optic technologies receive an implied boost? What about municipalities: Will they be favored? Or at least, will the legislative language ultimately pre-empt states from restricting community broadband networks?

The Municipal Networks project of the Institute for Local Self Reliance highlights the role that local governments and quasi-public bodies have played in order to suit their specific broadband needs. But while the Biden administration has been vocal in its support of municipal broadband efforts, Republicans in Congress and around the country have fought for years to outlaw or minimize municipal broadband efforts.

It remains to be seen whether Biden will leave these municipal advocates jilted at the altar.

Breakfast Media LLC CEO Drew Clark has led the Broadband Breakfast community since 2008. An early proponent of better broadband, better lives, he initially founded the Broadband Census crowdsourcing campaign for broadband data. As Editor and Publisher, Clark presides over the leading media company advocating for higher-capacity internet everywhere through topical, timely and intelligent coverage. Clark also served as head of the Partnership for a Connected Illinois, a state broadband initiative.


House Democrat Introduces Bill to Add Local Parks to E-Rate Program

The Technology in the Parks Act would also put parks in line for used computers and equipment from federal agencies.



Screenshot of Rep. Danny Davis, D-Illinois, at a House hearing on November 15.

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2023 – A House Democrat announced on Friday a bill that would fund broadband internet and devices for public parks.

The Technology in the Parks Act would expand the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program to include local parks. That program currently provides approximately $4 billion in yearly broadband subsidies for schools and libraries through the FCC’s Universal Service Fund. Adding public parks would allow them to request government money toward the cost of internet each month.

The move is “crucial to bringing broadband access to these community spaces,” said the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Danny Davis, D-Illinois, in a statement.

In an effort to provide devices on the subsidized connection, the bill would also put parks in the U.S. General Services Administration’s Computers for Learning program. That would give parks access to computer equipment no longer being used by federal agencies. 

The bill would also tap the Department of Labor to implement a grant program for “technology training programs” in local parks.

Similar programs aimed at helping people navigate and participate in online spaces are drawing funds from other federal agencies. The Commerce Department’s $42.5 billion broadband expansion program makes room for states to fund digital literacy trainings, and its $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act programs are targeted at such efforts.

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North Carolina Releases Final Guidance on $100 Million Pole Replacement Program

Providers may receive up to $10,000 for each utility pole they replace in unserved areas.



Photo of Nate Denny, deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology.

WASHINGTON, November 27, 2023 – North Carolina’s broadband office released on Monday final guidance for its $100 million pole replacement program.

The program, funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, will reimburse broadband providers for utility pole replacement costs. Expanding networks can involve attaching equipment to those utility poles. When a pole needs to be replaced to accommodate more equipment, pole owners typically pass the cost on to attachers.

Telecommunications companies have cited this extra cost as a barrier to quick broadband deployments, something utility companies dispute. The two industries have been in conflict on the issue for years, with both continuing to push the FCC to weigh in on a cost sharing regime.

North Carolina’s plan is an effort to smooth over the issue for future broadband expansion efforts, Nate Denny, the state department of information technology’s deputy secretary for broadband and digital equity, said in a statement. 

“It addresses a significant barrier to closing the digital divide in remote parts of our state,” he said.

Under the program, broadband providers can apply for 50 percent of the replacement cost for each pole replaced, up to $10,000 per pole. Pole replacement costs in unserved areas after June 1, 2021 are eligible for reimbursement. 

The program will kick off in February 2024 and accept applications from qualified providers.

The FCC has authority in 26 states over the terms of agreements between investor-owned utilities and telecom companies, which does not include publicly owned utilities or broadband providers that solely provide internet. The agency is set to vote on updated pole attachment rules at its December meeting.

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Expert Opinion

Kate Forscey: National Security and Global Success Depend Upon Prioritizing Telecom Funding

The Affordable Connectivity Program and the Rip-and-Replace program are both central funding needs for the industry.



The author of this Expert Opinion is Kate Forscey, contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute

With the government now funded into the new year, it’s time for Congress to take another look at its broader priorities, especially when it comes to the race with China for dominance in next-generation technologies. Whether it’s AI or cloud computing or virtual reality, if the United States is to remain competitive, we need to make secure and effective communications a priority. This means finally connecting all Americans to high-speed broadband and ensuring that our connectivity cannot be undermined by foreign adversaries.

Two popular programs are central to this goal: the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Rip-and-Replace program. Both of these programs have tremendous bipartisan, bicameral support; but both have been underfunded and now risk dying on the vine. Congress has the opportunity to fully fund these programs if it has the will to do so.

Let’s break it down.

The Affordable Connectivity Program provides low-income American families and veterans with discounts on Internet service and connectivity equipment, including higher discounts for those living on Tribal lands. With affordable broadband, more Americans can get online and be a part of the digital economy.

The ACP has been wildly successful, connecting over 21 million households to essential broadband they could otherwise not afford. And it continues to garner widespread support, with the vast majority of voters (78%) calling for its extension, including 64% of Republicans, 70% of Independents, and 95% of Democrats.

Congress provided the ACP with $14.2 billion in 2021—but funding is now running low and is projected to be fully exhausted by spring 2024. Governors, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, public interest groups, and Internet service providers are all raising the alarm about its imminent depletion. That’s why the Biden Administration in October called on Congress to replenish the program’s coffers with an additional $6 billion.

A good start, but not the whole story. Our foreign adversaries are well known for their espionage, and while a spy balloon might get the attention, a far more insidious problem lurks in our communications networks: equipment designed and produced by Chinese suppliers Huawei and ZTE. A bipartisan Congress passed the Secure and Trusted Networks Act to eradicate national security threats such as these, but sufficient funding for the Rip and Replace program has never materialized.

Again, the Biden Administration has stepped up and identified a need for $3.1 billion to fully fund the program as a “key national security priority” in its emergency supplemental funding request. It’s a narrative we can all get on-board with: that broadband falls under the umbrella of national security as a whole. American consumers and institutions both benefit from American-built networks and increased protection at home. But communications providers can’t live up to these needs on their own.

As it stands, the responsibility to get affordable, secure connectivity programs across the finish line rests with Congress. Even with a consensus of support for these two programs, the devil is in the details of how to make the price tags palatable to enough policymakers on Capitol Hill. The key is ensuring that any changes preserve the widespread efficacy of the program that has made it popular so far.

For example, Congress could cut the cost of the ACP by limiting the additional Tribal funding to rural Tribal lands. Any such change should be grounded in an evaluation of existing need in urban areas, but could be an opportunity to ensure funds are being directed to areas of greatest need. And Congress should consider indexing the ACP to inflation. The high inflation of recent years has wreaked havoc on the budgets of consumers—and inflation-proofing the program would ensure that broadband remains affordable for all Americans even should inflation come back.

As for Rip-and-Replace, those of us urging for more funds could concede putting safeguards in place to ensure the money is being used for its intended purpose – the kind of compromise needed to get such policies across the finish line

These are just some ideas as we head into the final funding fight. Not everyone is going to be on the same page on what is and isn’t working best, but shared success starts by recognizing that we all have the same endgame. Congress must ensure that adequate funding for the ACP and Rip and Replace program are included in any year-end spending package. We have an all-too-rare opportunity to win the race for high-tech dominance—we just need to provide the resources.

Kate Forscey is a contributing fellow for the Digital Progress Institute and principal and founder of KRF Strategies LLC. She has served as senior technology policy advisor for Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo and policy counsel at Public Knowledge. This piece is exclusive to Broadband Breakfast.

Broadband Breakfast accepts commentary from informed observers of the broadband scene. Please send pieces to The views expressed in Expert Opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the views of Broadband Breakfast and Breakfast Media LLC.

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