As part of a proposed $1 trillion “blueprint” for modernizing the nation’s infrastructure over the next decade, Senate Democrats proposed this week to allocate $20 billion for the expansion of broadband network facilities in unserved and underserved rural areas that would cover both backbone and last mile wireline and wireless deployments. 

Announced Monday by Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY), the Blueprint to Rebuild America’s Infrastructure responds to pledges made by President Trump during the 2016 campaign to spur job creation by committing up to $1 trillion in federal funding to overhaul the nation’s bridges, roads, utilities and other critical infrastructure.  The announcement also came as House members adopted seven telecommunications-related bills, including the Federal Communications Process Reform Act (HR 290), the Federal Communications Consolidated Reporting Act (HR 599) and the Securing Access to Networks in Disaster Act (HR 588), that advanced during the previous Congressional session but failed to achieve a floor vote in both chambers.

Outlined in a press release issued by the Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Center, the blueprint specifies that the goal of investing $20 billion in rural broadband infrastructure is “to close the rural-urban divide, and to push toward ubiquitous access to high-speed broadband.”  The proposed $20 billion outlay would also cover public safety broadband networks in affected areas.  Funding would be available “to projects currently eligible under programs at both the Department of Commerce and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.”  Anticipating that efforts to deploy new broadband infrastructure will generate 260,000 new jobs, the blueprint would expand existing eligible programs “to enable grant recipients to use grant funds to deploy various types of infrastructure capable of offering, middle-mile, last-mile wired and wireless broadband access” while “adding evaluation criteria in the awards process to ensure that the funding goes to the most effective and efficient uses.”  Finally, the blueprint would make additional federal funding available “to help upgrade our nation’s aging 9-11 system and other critical infrastructure technology.” 

Although Senate Republicans offered no comment, Brad Gillen, an executive vice president at wireless association CTIA, welcomed the initiative as he promised that his organization will work “with lawmakers to promote broadband investment and streamlined siting procedures to help secure America’s place as a global wireless leader.”