A historic boost in broadband funding is closer to reality as a bipartisan group of Senators and the Biden administration have reached agreement on an infrastructure funding deal. The $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework includes $65 billion for broadband investment.
The deal isn’t done quite yet. It still has to pass both chambers of Congress, and in today’s political climate, that’s by no means assured. But it is progress.
The $65 billion in broadband funding is $35 billion less than what President Biden’s original infrastructure proposal called for. But even with that haircut, $65 billion is an historic amount. The funding is to be spread over 5 to 8 years.
The White House issued a statement regarding the broadband funding, saying Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework will:
“Connect every American to reliable high-speed internet, just as the federal government made a historic effort to provide electricity to every American nearly one hundred years ago. The Framework will also drive down prices for internet service and close the digital divide.”
To put the $65 billion in broadband infrastructure funding into more context, consider the following:
- It’s more than 3x the total budget of the RDOF program and it may be administered in half the time of the ten year RDOF program
- It’s 9x larger than the $7.2 billion ARRA broadband stimulus program, which was launched over a decade ago
- On an annual basis the proposed broadband infrastructure funding would equate to $13 billion, roughly $5 billion more than the total current annual USF budget of around $8 billion and not all of that goes toward infrastructure
Should the funding be approved, expect a firestorm of debate on how to spend it. The battle lines have already been drawn and they center on issues like technology neutrality, symmetrical broadband, access vs. affordability and much more.
At the center of these arguments is the question: How much fiber connectivity should this broadband infrastructure funding support? The Fiber Broadband Association issued a report recently that says getting fiber to everyone in the country has a price tag of $100 billion. According to that math, we’re $35 billion short right out of the gate.
The Wireless Internet Service Provider Association (WISPA) is arguing that there’s too much focus on fiber broadband and symmetrical broadband, calling it a “false economy.” WISPA of course argues fixed wireless access can do an adequate job and for less cost.
It already makes for a spirited debate. Imagine when and if the money actually gets appropriated.