Trump turns his back on new broadband spending

3 February 2018 by Steve Blum

President Donald Trump might want to pump $1.5 trillion into infrastructure upgrades, but don’t expect any new federal money to be earmarked for rural broadband projects. It’s not clear how much of the $1.5 trillion is new spending, or the extent to which existing programs are bundled into it, but either way there isn’t much enthusiasm in the white house or the republican-controlled house of representatives for dedicated broadband funding, according to Politico. The republican telecoms policy lead in the house, representative Marsha Blackburn (R – Tennessee) says she…

Wants to focus on bills to streamline permitting and clear away regulations impeding new networks, and attach them to the infrastructure legislation. “I want to see how much bipartisan support we can end up building for simplifying this process,” she said. [House energy and commerce committee] Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) agreed: “Sometimes it’s more than just the money,” he said, arguing that FCC subsidies already provide billions of dollars for broadband and that the private sector is doing just fine.

Politico also reported that the white house confirmed “that it wouldn’t seek to set aside money” for dedicated broadband funding, rural or otherwise. Although that doesn’t rule out the possibility that broadband might be able to compete with other types of infrastructure projects for funding, Trump’s state of the union speech promised “gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways” and didn’t say a word about broadband.

The latest infrastructure manifesto posted on the white house website does, but highlights an existing broadband loan program run by the federal agriculture department. The Federal Communications Commission’s Connect America Fund makes billions of dollars in cash payments to providers for broadband upgrades, but it’s an incumbent-centric program that sets a low bar for service: 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload speeds.

What we have is what we’re going to get.