Policy Summit Panel Covers Nuances of a New Infrastructure Bill

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WIA’s Policy Summit Sessions yesterday took on the issue of “Implications and Opportunities in a New Infrastructure Bill.” The session panelists were Staci Pies, VP of Government & Regulatory Affairs at Crown Castle and Matt Mandel Vice President, Government and Public Affairs at WIA. It was hosted by Inside Towers Managing Editor, Jim Fryer.

The panel explored the expectations of a digital component to the Bill and the funding possibilities for upgrades and new builds for broadband connectivity, especially in rural and underserved areas hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Pies said one of the challenges that Crown addressed was how to work together with cities to help develop federal grant programs. She said their position was to give local jurisdictions additional funds only when they have implemented a 5G and broadband-ready basket of reforms.

“I think about it a little bit like when years ago the government was looking for ways to incentivize states to raise the drinking age to 21. They said if you raise the drinking age, you have access to additional funds,” Pies said. She said Crown has tried to be sensitive to the critical financial situations many cities are in right now by trying not to impose additional obligations on them. NTIA could administer the program, she said, if the cities agree to streamline their procedures for deployment and grant more access to rights-of-way.

“They could then use those funds to buy more laptops and software and train their employees and facilitate lower cost deployment,” she said.

Mandel said that WIA’s role is to ensure that when the Biden Administration is talking about the infrastructure bill that, included in the roads and bridges, etc. is the subject of broadband. “Congress in both parties has said we need to invest in broadband. There are lots of proposals bouncing around from $80 billion to $100 billion in broadband subsidies and buildout, although those numbers are subject to change.”

Pies said Crown is very pleased to see the broad bi-partisan support for broadband. “The unique perspective of infrastructure providers is we’re not just providing service but we’re building the network not just for our customers but for other wireless providers.”

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