Senate Dems’ Infrastructure Plan Earmarks $40 Billion for Rural Broadband


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Senate Democratic leaders unveiled their own plan this week to fix the nation’s infrastructure and introduce broadband connectivity to rural areas. It would pay for $1 trillion in new spending by repealing much of the GOP’s tax-cut law.

Democrats proposed $140 billion to repair roads and bridges and $115 billion each to modernize water and sewer systems and improve public transportation. They allocate $40 billion to extend broadband internet access to rural areas. They proposed to raise the corporate tax rate from 21 percent to 25 percent — lower than it was before last year’s cuts, but higher than the president said he would agree to, reports The Washington Times. Senators also called for raising the rate on top earners back to 39.6 percent, up from the new 37 percent rate, to restore the individual alternative minimum tax and the estate tax, and close the “carried interest” loophole for certain money managers.  

Specifically for broadband, the plan would provide direct federal support for a universal internet grant program to close the “last mile” gap based on certain criteria:

  1.  Focus on those areas that need adequate, affordable high-speed internet the most
  2. Upgrade existing infrastructure where reasonable
  3. Leverage competition to make sure federal resources are used most efficiently
  4. Use taxpayer resources responsibly
  5. Tackle the tribal broadband gap

Noting that, “we cannot merely rely on providers’ representation of the service they deliver,” the plan calls for updating broadband coverage maps to more accurately pinpoint areas that lack access.

NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, called the plan, “a welcome addition to the ongoing infrastructure dialogue.” NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield said it’s eager “for further conversations about how to help ensure that properly coordinated and effective programs can promote and sustain affordable access to future-proof broadband networks by all Americans.”

In contrast to the Dems’ plan, the administration’s proposal to direct $200 billion in federal dollars to infrastructure projects includes broadband as a priority, but does not specifically earmark funding for that. It dedicates $50 billion to rural infrastructure and each state governor would decide how to allocate the money. The goal is to stimulate at least $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investment from the private sector, Inside Towers reported.

While lawmakers agree infrastructure is a priority, they disagree on how to pay for it. “As we’ve said from day one, we Democrats want to work with the president and our Republican colleagues on infrastructure,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, (D-NY). “But we want to do it in a real way that actually produces results,” he said in unveiling the plan on Wednesday.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) called the Democratic proposal “a nonstarter,” reported the The Washington Post. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Bill Shuster (R-PA) recently told The Hill, that in general, an infrastructure bill could pass in a lame-duck session of Congress if it doesn’t succeed before the midterm elections. However Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-TX) is skeptical an infrastructure bill would pass this year, citing other congressional priorities, such as budget negotiations.

March 9, 2018

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