Pile of broadband bills and initiatives grows in Washington, D.C.

21 January 2018 by Steve Blum
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The federal government shut down is an opportunity to take stock of some of the broadband legislation and spending initiatives put on the table in the federal capital during the past couple of weeks.

Federal Communications Commission president Ajit Pai is circulating a proposal to direct what he says is an extra $500 million towards small rural carriers and cooperatives and “put in place strong new rules to prevent abuse”. It would come from an existing universal service program – whether it’s really new money or just a rebranding is unclear.

In what’s become an annual ritual, representative Anna Eshoo (D – Silicon Valley) proposed a dig once bill – HR 4800 – for federal highway projects. As in the past, it has bipartisan support. There’s no reason to think it’ll get any further than past efforts, although there’s no reason to think it won’t either. She also introduced a bill – HR 4814 – that would make it unmistakably clear that states can’t restrict or ban municipal broadband service, in effect reinstating an FCC order that was thrown out by a federal appeals court. Her co-authors are all democrats, which means it’s not going anywhere in the republican-controlled house of representatives.

Republicans have their own ideas about promoting broadband development. Besides Marsha Blackburn’s (R – Tennessee) “internet openness” measure, republican representatives introduced a flurry of bills (i.e. binding) and resolutions (“sense of the house”) that are generally aimed at speeding up broadband infrastructure deployment, including several that preempt local and state authority. These include…

  • House of representative bill (HR) 4817, Billy Long (R – Missouri) – funds Internet exchanges in communities without one.
  • House resolution 687, Gus Bilirakis (R – Florida) – says state and local broadband taxes and permit requirements should match federal ones.
  • House resolution 689, Richard Hudson (R – North Carolina) – directs federal subsidies to states that have streamlined permit requirements for small cells.
  • House resolution 690, Leonard Lance (R – New Jersey) – limits federal subsidies to one project in any given area.
  • House resolution 691, Bob Latta (R – Ohio) – calls for federal spending to be “technologically neutral”, which is a code phrase meaning “give it to wireless companies, the bigger the better”.
  • House resolution 701, Bill Flores (R – Texas) – limits federal environmental and historical reviews for broadband projects.

And then there’s president Donald Trump’s promised, but still unseen, yuge infrastructure spending program. It’s supposed to include broadband, but statements made so far indicate a preference for privately funded wireless projects.