President Trump’s American Infrastructure Initiative, announced today, recommends making $200 billion in federal funding available for infrastructure investment, including $50 billion targeted specifically for a new Rural Infrastructure Program. How much of that money might go toward a Trump rural broadband initiative is unclear.
Although President Trump has previously discussed the importance of rural broadband, Trump rural broadband initiatives to date have been aimed at eliminating red tape, rather than providing funding.
The Trump American Infrastructure Initiative hopes to spur a total of at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments with “partners at the state, local, tribal and private level,” according to a White House fact sheet. Half of the $200 billion that the federal government will invest will go toward an incentives program to spur additional funding.
News about the Trump infrastructure proposal comes just days after legislators approved a federal budget, which includes a separate $20 billion for infrastructure initiatives for 2018 and 2019. Details about how that money would be allocated also are unclear.
Trump Rural Broadband
Rather than allocating a specific amount of money for various types of infrastructure, the Trump American Infrastructure Initiative leaves those types of decisions to individual states.
A White House fact sheet states that “the bulk of the dollars” in the Rural Infrastructure Program will be allocated to state governors with the goal of “giving states the flexibility to prioritize their communities’ needs.” The remaining funds will be distributed through rural performance grants, according to the fact sheet.
The fact sheet also notes that $14 billion of the total $200 billion will be allocated to expanding infrastructure financing programs, including rural utility lending and others.
It’s worth noting that the fact sheet’s opening statement suggests rural broadband isn’t top of mind with the crafters of the initiative. “We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways all across our land,” the fact sheet begins. “And we will do it with American heart and American hands and American grit.”
Readers will note the absence of broadband in those words.
And although President Trump told attendees at the American Farm Bureau Federation convention last month that “broadband internet access is an issue of vital concern to [rural] communities and businesses,” he did not mention broadband when he said “necessary funds” would be available to rebuild rural infrastructure. The types of infrastructure that he specifically called out at that time included roadways, railways and waterways.
Perhaps Jonathan Spalter, CEO of service provider association USTelecom had these comments in mind when he issued a statement saying direct support from the federal government is critical to bringing broadband benefits to all Americans and that USTelecom looks forward to working with Congress and the Trump administration on “getting our 21st century infrastructure priorities right, including dedicated funding to ensure broadband connectivity for all Americans.”
As for how the $20 billion for infrastructure in the new federal budget might be allocated, media outlet The Hill reported that Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer said in a floor speech that the funds would go toward “existing” projects including rural broadband and several other types of infrastructure.
NRECA, the trade group representing rural electric cooperatives, sent a letter to Congress, requesting that $2.5 billion from the $20 billion infrastructure funding be allocated to rural broadband. Additionally, NRECA suggests this new rural broadband funding be administered through the existing Rural Utilities Service, and offered in a “level playing field” fashion and include electric cooperatives in the process.