At least some broadband policy can cross party lines in congress

31 March 2017 by Steve Blum
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There are aspects of broadband policy that are getting bipartisan support in the U.S. congress. Not anything to do with privacy rules or network neutrality or common carrier status for broadband, of course. But there are common views regarding some of the nitty gritty details of broadband infrastructure deployment.

A house of representatives sub-committee that deals with communications and technology issues looked kindly on two draft bills, both of which are largely revivals of proposals that didn’t make it out of congress last year. One is backed by the sub-committee chair, Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee), and the other by Silicon Valley representative Anna Eshoo (D – Palo Alto).

Blackburn wants to make it easier to build telecommunications infrastructure on federal property and particularly by…

1) creating an inventory of federal assets that can be used to attach or install broadband infrastructure;
2) requiring all landholding agencies to use common templates when leasing space for wireless broadband attachments; and
3) streamlining processes for communications facilities location applications at the Department of Interior and Forest Service.

Eshoo is back with dig once legislation that would require the installation of communications conduit in federally-funded highway construction projects. There was a similar degree of cross-aisle cooperation about this time last year, with Eschoo’s language getting rolled into a bill that also included much of what Blackburn is pushing, but the dig once provisions were subsequently dropped. Not that it made much difference, since gridlock at the U.S. capitol eventually killed the whole package.

Another broadband policy blast from the past is also making the rounds at the U.S. senate, but this one is only backed by democrats. Six blue state senators, led by Cory Booker (D – New Jersey) and not counting a Californian among them, floated a draft bill that would prevent state governments from “prohibiting or substantially inhibiting” cities or counties or other public provider from getting into the telecoms business. It would do legislatively what the Federal Communications Commission was blocked by a court from doing administratively, when it tried to preempt municipal broadband restrictions in North Carolina and Tennessee.

As it happens, the Tennessee case also caught Blackburn’s attention at the time. She proposed a bill that would have done the exact opposite and definitively prevented the federal government from involving itself in state-level muni broadband policy. You don’t need a crystal ball to know what would happen to Booker’s bill in the extremely unlikely event that it ever escapes the senate and lands in Blackburn’s committee.