Two nuggets of broadband policy gold offered to Trump administration

12 February 2017 by Steve Blum
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It’s in there somewhere.

So as not to throw the baby out with the bathwater (although it’s a small baby in an ocean of bathwater), it’s worth highlighting a couple of genuine wins in the last gasp “progress report” from the Obama administration’s federal broadband opportunity council.

The acknowledgement by the federal economic development agency (EDA) that broadband infrastructure is eligible for grant funding is particularly valuable, since it’s backed up with cash. EDA is now encouraging local agencies to “incorporate broadband investments (if applicable) into their regional economic development strategies along with other assets such as transportation infrastructure, energy, land use, etc.” Whether or not that beneficence will continue into Donald Trump’s reign is still an open question, but at least it’s standard operating procedure for now.

Contrast that to the USDA’s broadband funding programs, which are largely restricted to incumbents (although that includes electric utilities, under some circumstances) and mostly involve loans, which also favor current monopolists over competitive start ups.

The second small victory comes in the form of a memo from a federal environmental protection agency executive telling staff to try to be efficient when evaluating infrastructure projects. Such efficiency…

Includes allowing entities laying cable to take advantage of trenches opened for EPA-funded projects or projects under EPA oversight where feasible, appropriate, environmentally sound, and consistent with statutory, regulatory or court-ordered requirements.

I appreciate your efforts to ensure that agency employees, grantees, contractors and our state and tribal partners all understand that the EPA supports a “dig-once” approach to environmental and human-health infrastructure investments when projects can also support greater broadband access for the American public.

Yes, there’s an abundant supply of weasel words in there, but the good news is that it leans in to the Trump administration’s regulatory fast track mind set. If anything gets chopped, it’ll be the weasel words.