Legislation introduced Wednesday by Democrats on the House Energy & Commerce Committee would provide $40 billion in federal funds for the expansion of broadband network infrastructure, particularly in rural and underserved areas. Resembling a similar funding measure that was introduced in the Senate in January, the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America or LIFT America Act (HR 2479) corresponds with the $1 trillion national infrastructure funding initiative that was advocated by President Trump during last year’s presidential campaign. While both the pending Senate bill and the newly-unveiled LIFT America Act provide funding for other types of infrastructure projects in addition to broadband, the Senate measure earmarks $20 billion for broadband network expansion as opposed to the $40 billion outlay proposed by the LIFT America bill.
Specifically, the LIFT America measure would allocate $40 billion over the next five years to deploy “secure and resilient broadband [and] to expand access for communities nationwide while promoting security by design.” According to a summary of the legislation, $30 billion would be targeted to broadband deployment by private sector entities in unserved areas, with funds to be awarded through a “national reverse auction.” (The remaining $10 billion would be awarded to the states through a separate, reverse auction process.) If there are no unserved areas in a state, funds may be awarded for broadband network development “in underserved areas, to deploy broadband . . . connective technology to schools and libraries, or to fund deployment of next-generation 911” services. Fund recipients must construct network facilities that provide minimum speeds of 100 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream except in certain remote areas where a minimum speed threshold of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps would apply. Excluding taxes and fees, consumer costs for broadband services provided through such funding would be capped at $60 per month.
Applauding the LIFT America Act as “a blueprint for critical investments in our nation’s infrastructure that will also create jobs [and] promote economic growth,” ranking House Energy & Commerce Committee member Frank Pallone (D-NJ) said, “I look forward to advancing these key investments in American infrastructure.” Shirley Bloomfield, the CEO of rural broadband association NTCA, also welcomed the bill, maintaining that the LIFT America Act “and the amount of resources indicated reflect a clear recognition of the importance of broadband as a national infrastructure priority.”