Once lawmakers in Congress pass the next COVID relief bill, experts predict they’ll turn their attention to infrastructure. Inside Towers reported that several communications experts hope wireless infrastructure funds for 5G deployment are included in that measure.
Battle lines are being drawn now over broadband, Politico reports. Lawmakers and industry groups are jockeying to shape the broadband internet investments likely to be embedded in President Joe Biden’s infrastructure package.
Senior Democrats like House Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) want to revive the $100 billion package aimed at connecting the unconnected and funding programs to bolster digital equity, which is likely to take center stage in coming weeks.
But Republicans say they’ve been frozen out from recent pandemic relief talks. After a year of intense government spending, they bristle over the bigger price tags and instead point to what they believe are more economical ways to close the digital divide.
“You’ve gotta pay for all of this stuff,” said Bob Latta (R-OH), the top GOP’er on the House Energy and Commerce telecom subcommittee. Specifically referring to pricier Democratic broadband proposals, he asked rhetorically, “How do they come up with these figures and how are you going to spend it?” Politico reports Latta prizes broadband’s bipartisan deal-making potential. But he and several other congressional Republicans favor removing the regulatory hurdles broadband providers face in trying to build out their networks (like permitting delays on federal lands) and keeping investments tailored to avoid subsidizing competition with incumbent ISPs.
There’s much bipartisan interest in closing the digital divide. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) brought up broadband directly in senators’ recent Oval Office meeting with Biden to discuss infrastructure.
The political jockeying over broadband is likely to go into high gear this spring, note Hill watchers. Lawmakers will likely take on some of these infrastructure questions in the coming months after they wrap up the current pandemic relief bill. Although Democrats can pass the current COVID aid package without GOP buy-in using budget reconciliation, they may need Republicans to move forward on infrastructure, according to Politico.