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Exclusive Drew Clark Column: When Will the House Act on Infrastructure?

Party squabbles to delay infrastructure spending in the House.



WASHINGTON, August 20, 2021 – Investments in infrastructure appear to be universally popular on Capitol Hill. But the $1.2 trillion in federal spending that passed the Senate last week – $65 billion for broadband – is about to get holed up in intra-party squabbling.

Moderate and progressive Democrats are about to go after each other over whether to spend $1.2 trillion, or $1.2 trillion plus an additional estimated $3.5 trillion.

After the Senate passed the infrastructure bill on an overwhelming 69-30 vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi appeared to be jumping on the bipartisan bandwagon. She called the House back from their vacations (in Capitol Hill parlance, it’s called a “district work period”) and into a special legislative session on Monday, August 23 and Tuesday, August 24.

But here’s the truth: Pelosi’s gambit is designed precisely to delay a vote on infrastructure until after a more-than-a-month’s process to add in nearly three times again the amount of government spending on priorities that are decidedly not bipartisan.

A silver lining of this delay: House representatives have potentially more time and more opportunity to recalibrate less attractive portions of the broadband measure.

What’s likely to happen on Monday

Soon after the Senate passed on broadband infrastructure legislation on Tuesday, August 10, in the early morning hours of Wednesday, August 11, the Senate passed a separate measure to advance Democratic-favored priorities addressing health care, child care, family leave, public education and climate change.

This measure – a budget resolution – doesn’t fund this $3.5 trillion in spending directly. Instead, it merely starts the process for the committees in both the Senate and the House to flesh out exactly how they would spend an additional $3.5 trillion.

And unlike the overwhelmingly bipartisan support for infrastructure spending, the budget resolution passed by a razor-sharp and completely partisan margin: 50-49.

But, siding with progressives who don’t want to give up leverage to pass the Democratic wish-list, Pelosi plans to hold infrastructure spending hostage until two other measures pass first: The John Lewis Voting Rights Act, H.R. 4, and the House’s assent to the budget resolution.

Should the House agree to pass their chamber’s companion budget resolution, that will kick off a process of “budget reconciliation.” That means that Congress can pass legislative priorities by a simple majority of both the House and the Senate. Otherwise, spending priorities and programs would be blocked by Senate procedures that require at least 60 senators to agree before a bill can become a law.

On Sunday, Pelosi said she had “requested that the Rules Committee explore the possibility of a rule that advances both the budget resolution and the bipartisan infrastructure package. This will put us on a path to advance the infrastructure bill and the reconciliation bill.”

But it’s hard to see how such a rule could “advance” an infrastructure measure when Pelosi has repeatedly stated that will not allow a vote on infrastructure until the House and Senate committee leaders go through a weeks-or-months-long process of “reconciliation” to spend $3.5 trillion. And that is $3.5 trillion that hasn’t even been written on paper, let alone authorized by either chamber!

Moderates are opposed to a delay on funding infrastructure

Nine moderate Democrats are determinedly opposed to Pelosi’s go-it-slow maneuver. They want a vote on the infrastructure measures – now.

“When you’ve got a bill that will create two million jobs a year, with the support of the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and the Chamber of Commerce, all coming together with Democrats and Republicans and, by the way, the president, why would we not bring this to a vote and get it done immediately?” Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., told The New York Times. “Of course we will be pushing hard.”

Gottheimer, a former official at the Federal Communications Commission under then-Chairman Julius Genachowski, and a former Microsoft official, is a prior speaker at the Broadband Breakfast Club.

Because the House is also closely divided between Republicans and Democrats, Pelosi can only afford to lose three of her members or she will fail to secure majority support for the Democratic-supported rule.

And on Friday, the nine moderates – in addition to Gottheimer, they include Carolyn Bourdeaux of Georgia, Jared Golden of Maine, Ed Case of Hawaii, Jim Costa of California, Kurt Schrader of Oregon and Texans Filemon VelaHenry Cuellar and Vicente Gonzalez — said that if House leadership doesn’t schedule a vote on the infrastructure bill, they will block the budget resolution.

Can Pelosi thread the needle and keep control of the Democrats?

This week, Pelosi supporters leading House committees are asking what’s behind the rush to pass infrastructure funding. In a Washington Post Live discussion on Wednesday, Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio said of the infrastructure bill:

  • But if we were to pass this bill as is, I don’t know that we would even see a reconciliation bill come out of the Senate. I think that we have to hold them both. You know, they’re saying, “Why are you in such a hurry for the infrastructure bill? It doesn’t go into effect until October 1st.” If we passed it tomorrow, it goes into effect October 1st. If we pass it September 30th, it goes into effect October 1st.

DeFazio, whose primary interest is in transportation, has been a frequent critic of the Senate’s infrastructure bill. And he has repeatedly stated that he wants to use the reconciliation process to revisit the bipartisan bill’s approach to infrastructure spending.

Others in telecommunications have pointed out that the same could happen to the broadband spending provisions as Congress winds its way through a very long reconciliation process.

Time may be good for some critics of particular broadband or technology provisions: Some criticized the anti-crypto measures that the Senate included in its version of the bill.

An aide to a House Democratic leader said that the chamber will consider and conclude its work on the budget resolution and on H.R. 4, the voting rights measure, by Tuesday evening.

In other words, no votes will be cast on broadband infrastructure – at least anytime soon.

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.

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Middle Mile Infrastructure Will be Key to Support BEAD Builds: Experts

Experts cited a lack of middle mile as the biggest obstacle to reaching many unserved areas.



Photo of panel 2 at the BEAD Implementation Summit, left to right: Chas Eberle, Dr. Tamara Holmes, Joel Daly, Laurel Leverrier, Kathryn de Wit

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2023 – An absence of middle mile infrastructure is the biggest barrier to affordable broadband in rural areas, experts said at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit on Friday.

“Middle mile” refers to the infrastructure running between communities that connects their local networks to the internet backbone. Money from the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program can be used for middle mile infrastructure, but last mile builds — internet connections to individual homes and businesses — are prioritized.

“Middle mile is the problem in terms of affordable rural broadband. Plain and simple,” said Joel Daly, a senior vice president at network company Zayo. “If you’re far away from a major internet exchange, that infrastructure is expensive.” 

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration approved in June nearly $1 billion for middle mile projects, over $90 million of which went to Zayo for projects in three states. All told, the money will fund over 12,000 miles of fiber-optic cable to supplement the BEAD program. 

Laurel Leverrier, the assistant administrator of the US Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service Telecommunications Program, said her experience working on rural broadband projects reflected Daly’s observation. She recounted laying hundreds of miles of fiber and an undersea cable before even breaking ground on last mile connections in Alaska.

“In a lot of places where we see these unserved locations, it really is the lack of middle mile service that is driving that,” she said. “Oftentimes if there’s a good middle mile facility, companies and communities can extend off of that.”

Keeping additional middle costs down will be key for reaching every unserved area – those with the slowest and sometimes nonexistent internet – panelists said.

Dr. Tamarah Holmes, director of the Virginia Office of Broadband, said her state is facilitating partnerships between utility companies and unserved communities to make use of their existing fiber infrastructure and avoid some of this cost.

Through its Utility Leverage Program, the state is using over 3,800 miles of existing fiber across 17 projects to aid last mile builds. 

“It’s been a game changer for us,” she said.

Chaz Eberle, director of outreach at the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund, a $10 billion program set up with the American Rescue Plan Act, noted that CPF funds can be used to support middle mile builds so long as they directly benefit last mile infrastructure.

He pointed to Tennessee, which was awarded $158 million for middle mile builds under the program. The state pitched these as primers for BEAD projects, but other states have successfully applied by providing evidence of current demand for broadband in unserved areas, Eberle said.

If you missed the BEAD Implementation Summit, sign up for Broadband Breakfast’s BEAD Starter Pack for $35/month (cancel anytime). You’ll get access to all the videos and each of the three Breakfast Club reports prepared for the BEAD Implementation Summit:

Already a Broadband Breakfast Club member? Watch the videos!

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State Broadband Officers Outline BEAD Implementation Efforts

Broadband heads from 5 states listed community outreach, mapping, and program deadlines as top priorities for BEAD.



State broadband officers from Arkansas, New Jersey, Maine and North Carolina at the BEAD Implementation Summit

WASHINGTON, September 25, 2023 – State broadband leaders addressed on Friday their key areas of focus as they look to allocate billions in Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment grants.

The conversation took place at the Broadband Breakfast BEAD Implementation Summit, along with panels of other federal grant program officials, service providers, and investors. The $42.5 billion program is getting under way, with states releasing their initial proposals for implementing it and hearing public comments. Those proposals are due to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration by December 27.

Community outreach

Broadband heads cited engaging with communities – especially around challenges to broadband map data and fostering internet adoption – as being essential to the success of the program.

In New Jersey, broadband office leader Valarry Bullard and her team organized a listening tour. They go to churches and community centers to explain how high-capacity internet can play a role in people’s lives and local programs, without, she emphasized, jargon or acronyms.

“You kind of meet people where they’re at, you know?” she said.

Arkansas broadband director Glen Howie said his team went to all 75 counties in the state to explain how mapping challenges will work and work with counties to set up local broadband committees.

“You go into a county and you tell folks they have an opportunity to challenge their internet availability, they get fired up,” he said.

Mapping and data

As part of their proposals to the NTIA, states are required to outline a process for accepting challenges to the Federal Communications Commission’s map of broadband coverage. That map, now on its third iteration, is based on coverage reported by internet service providers, which is widely considered to be overstated.

Those map challenges will be crucial, both for BEAD and other federal broadband programs, the panel said. 

“It’s the foundation of all of our programs. We spend a huge amount of time on mapping,” said Angie Bailey, North Carolina’s head broadband officer. “We can’t do this work without strong, location-level mapping.”

In Maine, Andrew Butcher and the Maine Connectivity Authority have been investing in broadband mapping efforts for years, he said. A parallel mapping process to the FCC’s has helped them allocate previous broadband funds and confirm coverage reported by providers.

“It has allowed us to have a data-driven conversation, as opposed to a policy of dibs,” he said. “We want to understand where there’s service and where there’s not.”


Deadlines, both for submitting initial proposals and awarding subgrants, are on broadband leaders’ minds. Those initial proposals are being submitted in two parts, and states have one year from the approval of part II to award their entire BEAD allocations.

That has Howie’s office in Arkansas worried about completing the challenge process, grant awards, and state rulemaking before the deadline

“The one year, arbitrary timeline that we’re all under at the moment is a huge concern for us,” he said.

Taking time on the initial proposal deadlines is helping states with smaller and newer broadband offices, like Bullard’s office in New Jersey, she said, learn from other states and prepare for the task ahead of them.

“Our plan will be submitted December 27, probably at 11:59,” she said. “It’s giving us some more time for that investment. We’re learning more about our counties… we’re connecting with our community anchor institutions.” 

If you missed the BEAD Implementation Summit, sign up for Broadband Breakfast’s BEAD Starter Pack for $35/month (cancel anytime). You’ll get access to all the videos and each of the three Breakfast Club reports prepared for the BEAD Implementation Summit:

Already a Broadband Breakfast Club member? Watch the videos!

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Michigan Island Asks FCC to Require Fiber for Some Carriers

Missing out on BEAD-funded fiber could ‘materially impair’ the Beaver Island’s ability to compete, a local committee argued.



Photo of Beaver Island from the Beaver Island Boat Company.

WASHINGTON, September 22, 2023 – A small Michigan island, Beaver Island, is asking the Federal Communications Commission to require broadband carriers receiving legacy federal funds to lay fiber-optic cable, or face competition from other providers.

The 55-square mile island is the largest in Lake Michigan and had a population of 616, according to the 2021 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Beaver Island’s Joint Telecommunications Advisory Committee made the request in a September 18 filing to the FCC asking that the commission reconsider its adoption of the Enhanced Alternative Connect America Cost Model, or Enhanced ACAM. That model updates the previous allocation of federal money from the Universal Service Fund to internet providers in rural areas.

The model makes $13.5 billion available through 2028. It allows carriers to continue receiving funding if they upgrade or continue to provide service at 100 Megabit per second (Mbps) upload by 20 Mbps download – regardless of the technology they use to do so.

This, the island’s committee says, will prevent the island from being reached with fiber-optic cable, the highest capacity, most future-proof broadband technology. The Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, established in 2021, allocates $42.5 billion for states to expand broadband infrastructure, but disqualifies areas already served by federal funding.

Michigan’s broadband office estimated its portion BEAD funding could provide fiber-based internet to every location in the state currently receiving less than 100 * 20 Mbps service. That covers all of Beaver Island. But the island expects its providers will take the Enhanced ACAM  money and update their older, copper-based equipment to meet speed requirements rather than compete at auction for BEAD grants to build fiber.

“Rather than assuring [sic] those areas affected by the Order will receive adequate service,” the filing reads, referring to the commission’s official adoption of the new model on September 1, “the Order instead all but guarantees they will receive a service that will quickly become outdated.”

The committee  said in its filing that in order for an Enhanced ACAM recipient to prevent an area from being eligible for BEAD funding, it should be required by the FCC to use fiber.

Providers have until September 29 to accept or deny Enhanced ACAM funding.

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