Federal Infrastructure Plan Includes $65 Billion for Broadband

The $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill that made it to President Biden’s desk Friday for upgrades to the nation’s roads, bridges, pipes and ports also includes $65 billion to “ensure every American has access to reliable high-speed Internet.” Building high-speed networks in unserved areas and making broadband affordable for low-income families are priorities for an administration in pursuit of digital equity. The White House estimates 30 million U.S. households don’t have access to reliable Internet, a problem heightened by the need to learn and work at home during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The biggest chunk of broadband spending, $42.45 billion, will go toward state grants. States can use the funds for everything including network build-outs to identifying and mapping underserved areas. About $14 billion is earmarked toward making monthly Internet bills affordable for low-income Americans.

The infrastructure package also calls for $550 billion in new investments in things like electric-car charging stations and zero-emission school buses. The Democrats, who pushed the bill through with bipartisan support consisting of 13 House Republicans and 19 in the Senate — managed to get the spending mostly paid without tax hikes.

Most of the funding will come from “unspent coronavirus relief money and tightening enforcement on reporting gains from cryptocurrency investments,” reports The Washington Post, noting that the Congressional Budget Office reports the works and jobs program will add about $256 billion to the deficit.

Highlights of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act include:

  • Broadband Internet: $65 billion. The bill includes $30-a-month vouchers for low-income households. The provision replaces the current $50-a-month Emergency Broadband Benefit program in a trade-off that sees more households getting less money. “The power player on broadband funding will be the Commerce Department because its telecom division has a key oversight role in how the $42.45 billion in state funding will be spent,” Axios reports.
  • Power grid: $65 billion. The plan calls for bolstering of “grid reliability and resiliency,” which means older power lines and cables will be upgraded, and security measures put in place to prevent the power grid from being hacked. There is also funding for clean-energy technology, as part of the effort to address climate change.
  • Roads, Bridges, Ports, Airports: $218 billion. At the heart of the plan lies more than $110 billion to repair roads and bridges. There is also $66 billion in rail funding, $25 billion for airport renovations and $17 billion for port upgrades. The White House says these measures will “strengthen supply chains by making long overdue improvements for our nation’s ports, airports, rail, and roads.”
  • Electric-vehicle charging stations: $7.5 billion. The U.S. currently has roughly 43,000 charging stations. The administration’s goal of half all new cars electric by 2030 means the nation will require many more charging stations.
  • Electric school buses: $7.5 billion. As many cities have already done with commuter buses, the bill provides for replacing gas-powered school buses with zero-emissions models. Low income, rural and tribal communities will received specified funding to replace existing fleets.

In order to offset $28 billion in infrastructure costs over the next decade the bill requires brokers to report transactions of more than $10,000 to the IRS. This provision became somewhat controversial among members of the cryptocurrency community, who were concerned the definition of “broker” was broad and overly vague, which may have resulted in reporting requirements for miners and wallet developers in addition to brokers like Coinbase, notes The Verge.

Although the language was not changed, the Treasury Department has pledged it will impose the reporting requirement on developers.

Comcast Applauds Newly Passed Infrastructure Bill’s Focus on Broadband Access, Variety, 11/6/21

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