Broadband expansion is at the top of President-elect Joe Biden’s telecom priorities. The president-elect’s transition website is now live, and universal broadband and modern infrastructure feature prominently in his vision for the country’s economic recovery. Reviving the economy is one of four policy areas the incoming administration will prioritize. The others are COVID-19, racial equity and climate change.
Expanding broadband via 5G to every American, is part of the economic recovery portion of the transition team’s focus. “Communities without access cannot leverage the next generation of ‘smart’ infrastructure,” it reads. “As the COVID-19 crisis has revealed, Americans everywhere need universal, reliable, affordable, and high-speed internet to do their jobs, participate equally in remote school learning and stay connected. This digital divide needs to be closed everywhere, from lower-income urban schools to rural America, to many older Americans as well as those living on tribal lands.”
His plan likens closing the digital divide to how former President Franklin Roosevelt handled rural electrification. “Universal broadband is long overdue and critical to broadly shared economic success.”
Most Americans have not yet experienced the 5G speeds that wireless telcos promise as they work to keep pace with foreign competitors like China, reports Politico. Major U.S. carriers don’t have the right spectrum or network architecture in place to allow for widespread 5G yet, posing something for the next White House to tackle. Even in a divided Congress, 5G could be an area for bipartisan consensus, according to Politico, especially in the middle of a pandemic when connectivity has become more of a lifeline for many Americans.
Biden won the presidency Saturday with projected victories in Pennsylvania and Nevada. While President Donald Trump is fighting the results in court, according to Law360, the former vice president said he was moving forward with his transition plans so he would be ready to hit the ground running on Inauguration Day in January.
Yet for all the plans, there’s a snag. As of Monday, a Trump administration appointee was refusing to sign a letter allowing Biden’s transition team to formally begin its work, reported The Washington Post. Emily Murphy is the administrator of the General Services Administration, the agency in charge of federal buildings. She’s responsible for turning over millions of dollars as well as giving access to government officials, and equipment authorized for the taxpayer-funded transition teams of the winner.
Transition officials get government email addresses, and office space at every federal agency, including the FCC. That part of the transition is on hold for now, while other transition work goes on, according to The Post. A GSA spokesperson told The Hill that Murphy is waiting to determine that “a winner is clear.” GSA manages the funds on behalf of the incoming administration, according to Government Executive.
Meanwhile, the telecom industry has been somewhat quiet about the results. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, congratulated President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris. “We look forward to working with the administration and Congress to promote sustainable networks that will deliver high-quality services for years to come. Every American—no matter where he or she lives—deserves the opportunity to have robust, reliable broadband.”
USTelecom Monday released a 100-day policy framework to advance connectivity. USTelecom President/CEO Jonathan Spalter opened the report with a letter to President-elect Biden and incoming members of the 117th Congress. “The first 100 days of a new administration and new Congress are critical to charting a clear, bipartisan course for our nation’s policy agenda. Whatever the challenge – COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity, climate change, healthcare, education, job creation, or national security – broadband can and must play an essential role in any plan to lift Americans up and move our nation forward.”
NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith openly embraced Biden as the President-elect over the weekend. Smith, the former Republican Senator from Oregon, served in Congress with Biden. “I know Joe. I know his patriotic love for his country and of his good heart for all his countrymen. Working together on the Foreign Relations Committee, we routinely bridged the partisan divide to achieve important legislative accomplishments,” Smith said in a statement.
When Smith and his wife lost their son Garrett, he said Joe was a source of support and solace. “Because he too knew the pain of losing a child, he gave me a steady, brotherly shoulder to lean on,” stated Smith. “Joe is a healer, the consoler-in-chief our nation has elected. With due respect to President Trump’s rights to judicial review of election results, it is time to acknowledge the election of Joe Biden and to allow him the chance to bind our nation back together.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief