Democrats are challenging Donald Trump’s proposed trillion-dollar infrastructure initiative with an alternative plan that will expand "high speed and affordable broadband" in “underserved” and “unserved” rural areas of the country.
Under the new plan, Democrats want to dedicate $20 billion to expand wireline and wireless broadband service options for communities.
The proposed funding for broadband is part of a broader $1 trillion, 10-year plan to improve the nation’s infrastructure, including bridges and roads.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), ranking member on the Senate Commerce Committee, was one of the main co-sponsors of the infrastructure proposal.
“This funding will be available to projects currently eligible under programs at both the Department of Commerce and the US Department of Agriculture,” the proposal said. “We also propose expanding the programs to enable grant recipients to use grant funds to deploy various types of infrastructure capable of offering, middle-mile, last-mile wired and wireless broadband access, and adding evaluation criteria in the awards process to ensure that the funding goes to the most effective and efficient uses.”
The plan also proposes “additional funding … to help upgrade our nation’s aging 9-1-1 system and other critical infrastructure technology.” Democrats say that this measure will create an estimated 260,000 new jobs.
Sponsors of the measure point to the remaining gap in broadband availability. As of January 2016, an FCC study revealed that nearly 40% of Americans living in rural areas and 10% of Americans living in urban areas do not have access to broadband connectivity. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development ranks the U.S. 16th in the world in terms of broadband access and 12th in terms of average broadband speed.
The measure to include broadband funding in a proposed $1 trillion infrastructure initiative was praised by the Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA).
“We applaud Senate Democrats for their call to invest $20 billion into America’s broadband infrastructure,” said David Heard, interim CEO of TIA and board chairman. “With similar calls for infrastructure spending being made by President Trump and Republican leaders, we believe there is a real opportunity for bi-partisan action in the near future.”
Support for broadband expansion has continued to rise among Republicans and Democrats.
New FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has floated new ideas for how to expand rural broadband. Meanwhile, President Trump cited improving overall infrastructure throughout the country as a key part of his own agenda.