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House Passes Bipartisan Broadband Infrastructure Bill, But Without Reconcilation Measure

After a push by President Biden, House leaders allowed for a vote on the infrastructure legislation, with some GOP support.

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Photo of President Biden speaking on Saturday morning about the passage of broadband infrastructure legislation

WASHINGTON, November 6, 2021 – The House passed the bipartisan infrastructure measure on a 228-205 vote just before midnight on Friday, with 13 Republicans joining most Democrats to pass the long-lingering measure.

Dubbed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, H.R. 3684, the $1.2 trillion measures includes $65 billion in funding for broadband infrastructure and deployment, and has been widely anticipated by the broadband industry for months.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to suggest that we took a monumental step forward as a nation,” President Joe Biden said Saturday morning at the White House, flanked by Vice President Kamala Harris. “We did something long overdue, that has long been talked about in Washington, but never actually done.”

Biden called the bill a “once-in-a-generation” investment that would create millions of jobs and improve America’s economic standing. He also specifically highlighted its role in “making high-speed internet affordable and available everywhere in America.”

He also decried how some parents will wait in a McDonald’s parking lot to access Wi-Fi connectivity that may not be available at home.

Biden said he and Harris would have a formal signing ceremony for the measure “soon,” citing the desire for those who worked on the legislation to be able to attend.

A popular measure trapped in partisan politics

The infrastructure package and its broadband components remains broadly popular. It passed the Senate in August on a 69-30 vote. On Friday, the House passed the Senate-passed version of the package.

However, its fate has become entangled in partisan politics over a separate $1.75 trillion budget reconciliation measure with funding for addressing climate change and social spending.

The infrastructure bill was particularly sought by moderate Democrats. The reconciliation measure, the “Build Back Better Act,” is of particular concern for progressives. Hence the two bills were caught in a standstill as each faction of the Democratic Party wanted their preferred bill to be passed first.

On Friday, Biden urged progressives to end their blockage of the measure and send it to him immediately. Tuesday’s election results appeared to lend greater urgency to this objective.

He made that plea public at 9 p.m. Friday night: “I am urging all members to vote for both the rule for consideration of the Build Back Better Act and final passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill tonight,” he wrote. “I am confident that during the week of Nov. 15, the House will pass the Build Back Better Act.”

Enough progressive relented from their pledge to block infrastructure until reconciliation was passed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi felt confident enough of securing a majority that she put the measure for the vote.

Funding

Decades-Old Legislation Can Play Supplement to Federal Broadband Infrastructure Money

The Community Reinvestment Act was expanded to include broadband investments in 2016.

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Photo of Jordana Barton-Garcia (far right)

CLEVELAND, June 27, 2022 – A decades-old piece of legislation can play an important and supplemental role to federal grants for broadband infrastructure, said panelists at the Pew Charitable Trust Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

The Community Reinvestment Act was passed in 1977 to address redlining – the practice of denying financial services to individuals or groups based on where they are located, often along racial or soci-economic lines. The law encourages banks to make community development loans and investments in low- and moderate-income communities, rural, and tribal communities.

The legislation expanded to include investments in broadband infrastructure in 2016, after broadband was deemed an essential community service, said Jordana Barton-Garcia, principal of the social enterprise at Barton-Garcia Advisors. That means that it could play a key role in filling some of the broadband gaps, she said, as the federal government moves to distribute billions to the states under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

In response to the pandemic, banks can now qualify to receive CRA credit for broadband deployment activities, said Barton-Garcia. Activities include loans, investments, and services that support digital inclusion or affordability programs.

Banks receive CRA credit for investing in community development projects and are reviewed on their CRA performance every three years. Their scores are open to the general public. If the bank receives a negative rating, it may prevent the bank from opening new branches and the bank will be expected to correct the rating.

Currently, the Federal Reserve is seeking comments on a joint agency proposal to strengthen and modernize CRA regulations.

A report published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in 2016 laid the groundwork for broadband to be included under the CRA. “Under the CRA, infrastructure investment includes facilitating the construction, expansion, improvement, maintenance or operation of essential infrastructure…  broadband is now a basic infrastructure needed in all communities.”

The CRA also includes workforce development investments, digital literacy projects, and technical assistance for small businesses.

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Researching the Impact of Digital Equity Funding Starts With Community Collaboration

Understanding the funding impact will ‘begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.’

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Photo of Fallon Wilson

CLEVELAND, June 23, 2022 – Formulating research questions and making data readily accessible will contribute to the impact of federal and state digital equity funding, said experts speaking at the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Broadband Access Summit Wednesday.

It is essential to “formulate the research questions with communities” so that researchers will understand what is of interest and importance to the residents and local leaders, said Nicole Marwell from the University of Chicago,

Marwell said it is “critical” for researchers to consider how to “ask questions that bring answers that are more relevant for the community partners and then for [researchers] to try and figure out a way to make that interesting for a research audience.”

“We can demystify research,” said Fallon Wilson of the #BlackTechFutures Research Institute, speaking on how researchers can effectively work with community members. When data looks friendly to local leaders, they can go directly to their state broadband offices and advocate for their specific needs in specific areas.

“The best advocates are the people who advocate for themselves,” said Wilson.

Our role as researchers can play is to make data digestible for the non-academic, said Hernan Galperin of the University of Southern California.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration requires states to work with community leaders and partners for the funds distributed by the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

Wilson praised this mandate, saying that understanding the funding impact will “begin with the NTIA’s mandate to work with community partners.”

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Funding

BEAD Program Initiative Should Utilize Analysis of Affordable Connectivity Program Enrollment

Analyzing ACP enrollment can help the BEAD program solve the ‘persisting gap between deployment and subscription.’

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Photo of John Horrigan

WASHINGTON, June 16, 2022 – The National Telecommunications and Information Administration should utilize adoption data from the Affordable Connectivity Program to maximize the effectiveness of its $42.5-billion infrastructure program, according to a broadband adoption expert.

“If the federal government’s investments in broadband connectivity are to be effective, different programmatic pieces must work together,” said John Horrigan, Benton Senior Fellow and expert on technology adoption and digital inclusion, in a blog post Thursday.

Analyzing the enrollment data of the Federal Communications Commission’s ACP can help the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program — a $42.5 billion fund for infrastructure to be handed to the states — solve the “persisting gap between deployment and subscription” in three ways, said Horrigan.

First, examining ACP enrollment in zip codes can help target which areas within cities are unaware of ACP. Second, understanding where ACP enrollment is over-performing can “launch productive inquiry into models that may be effective – and replicable.” Third, ACP enrollment findings can help structure community outreach initiatives for digital inclusion.

“The National Telecommunications and Information Administration has emphasized that a key goal of BEAD investments in digital equity,” said Horrigan. “State planners will need all the tools they can find to work toward that goal – and analysis of ACP performance is one such tool.”

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