U.S. Capitol

The government has made a lot of funding available for broadband since the COVID-19 pandemic made the technology more important than ever — and more government broadband funding is expected. Several experts discussed what to expect in this area on a webinar yesterday organized by the Fiber Broadband Association.

As Tom Cohen, corporate counsel and partner with law firm Kelley Drye & Warren, explained, government broadband funding goes toward affordability programs as well as buildout programs. Traditionally, federal programs have provided between eight and nine billion dollars annually for broadband, but that amount has more than doubled. 

Cohen noted that the American Rescue Plan, signed into law earlier this year, makes $250 billion available to the states to distribute and he expects to see each state allocate between $50 million and $500 million of that money to broadband over a four-year period.

Government Broadband Funding

Moving forward, broadband is likely to be included in the infrastructure bill that legislators are working on. 

Kim Bayliss, a principal with law firm Perry Bayliss, offered a useful chart outlining a range of broadband legislation that lawmakers already have proposed and noted that the ideas included in these bills will help shape broader infrastructure legislation.

broadband funding proposals chart
Source: Fiber Broadband Association

“If there is any way to do this on a bipartisan basis, we should do that,” commented Steve Perry, also a principal with Perry Bayliss. Any legislation that is rammed through Congress by a single party tends to get a lot of pushback from the other party, he said.

He noted that “a lot of Democrats and Republicans agree on the need for broadband,” but said the Republicans will balk at bills such as the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA) that would allocate the largest amount of funding for broadband. 

Republicans, he said, will argue that “if you spend $100 billion on broadband there will be massive waste and fraud.” He said Democrats would get more support from Republicans if government broadband funding legislation would include measures for addressing broadband impediments that the Republicans have proposed.

Also at issue is where proposed funding would come from. Democrats have proposed raising corporate taxes, an idea that Republicans oppose.

Bayliss believes that the amount of funding ultimately made available for broadband will depend on whether Democrats and Republicans work together on an infrastructure bill. If the two parties work together, the funding allocated for broadband will be at the lower end of what is recommended in the current proposals and individual states will determine how to spend it, Bayliss said. 

If Republicans abandon negotiations, the broadband funding plans included in the final infrastructure bill will look more like the proposals made by Clyburn and Klobuchar or by Pallone, she added.

Legislators, she said, are like children in that they don’t operate well without a deadline – and the legislators’ deadline, she said, is going home for Christmas, which is around the time she expects to see legislation adopted, whatever form it may take. 

A replay of the FBA government broadband funding webinar, titled “$Billions on the Table:  FBA at Work on the Hill and FCC” should be available soon on the FBA website if it isn’t already there by the time you read this.

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