A trio of Democratic Congressmen have introduced a bill, the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017, they say is modeled on Franklin Roosevelt's rural electrification program.
Getting broadband to where there is not a business case for it has been likened to the challenge of getting electricity to rural 1930s farm wives still beating clothes on rocks.
The bill was introduced by Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), and Rick Nolan (D-Minn.), so its prospects in a Republican-controlled House and Senate and White House are problematic.
“The New Deal Broadband Act is an ambitious blueprint to connect every home, school, and business in America to high-speed, reliable broadband so we can all compete in the world economy," said Huffman.
The bill would:
1. “Establish a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to coordinate and centralize all Federal rural broadband programs;
2. “Authorize $20 billion for new broadband infrastructure focused on rural communities and those without adequate access;
3. “Authorize a new Tribal Broadband Assistance Program to support tribal communities in broadband deployment;
4. “Improve and modernize the Telecommunications Loan and Loan Guarantee Program to increase eligibility, allow greater flexibility, and break down federal agency broadband “silos”;
5. “Authorize the Rural Utility Service (RUS) to offer broadband grants in addition to loans and loan guarantees to provide small communities with the seed funds needed to compete in loan applications or develop commercially attractive proposals and increase overall (RUS) broadband investment from $25 million to $50 million annually;
6. “Establish an inventory of Federal and State assets on which a broadband facility could be constructed and;
7. “Provide land management agencies with cooperative agreement and fee retention authority for telecommunications rights-of-way to leverage public lands for broadband deployment.”
Key to how private providers react to the subsidy will be how "adequate" access is defined. ISPs have long complained about broadband stimulus funds under the BTOP and RUS programs underwriting competition to existing service rather than being more focused on unserved areas.
President Donald Trump has been pushed by tech companies to include broadband in his promised trillion-dollar infrastructure plan, and Democrats have come up with their own plan that includes that $20 billion broadband investment.
“We thank Representatives Huffman, Nolan and Pocan for introducing a bill that seeks to connect rural and tribal communities with the essential communications tool of the 21st century," said Public Knowledge VP Chris Lewis. "There are many new ideas to support broadband as a part of the new Congress’ infrastructure proposals. It’s good to see this legislation focused on ending the rural-urban digital divide.”