Demand for broadband grows as Washington negotiators hash out infrastructure package

Updated: Jul. 5, 2021 at 8:30 AM EDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - As negotiators in Washington continue to hammer out an infrastructure package, millions of Americans still don’t have a quality internet connection.

“American demand for broadband will only continue to grow,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the Rural Broadband Association.

A massive investment in broadband is a must-have when pen goes to paper on this landmark infrastructure package, Bloomfield added.

Making high-speed broadband internet available nationwide is a popular idea—78% of Americans support it, including a majority of Republicans, according to an April poll.

“This is an investment of a generation,” Bloomfield said. “And I think this allows us as a country to leapfrog.”

One in four people in rural or tribal regions do not have broadband access, according to the FCC. Meanwhile, only 1.7% of urban residents lack high-speed internet.

And the FCC has admitted that its own data likely overestimates the actual number of people with access—a poll by Pew Research Center found that only 63% of rural Americans have broadband at home.

Even when rural residents do have broadband access, nearly half of them have just one provider to choose from, so they are likely to face steeper costs without competition to drive down prices.

Bloomfield noted that getting the devices to connect is too expensive for some in rural America, arguing that the new dollars should be sent to these areas first.

In their initial draft, negotiators say $65 billion will go to broadband development. But Bloomfield said more will eventually be needed.

“You don’t put the money in then walk away,” Bloomfield said. “A lot of software, a lot of hardware, a lot of upgrades that are continually needed.”

Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), one of the negotiators in this deal, said that she sees broadband challenges in her state. It is one part of this deal that has widespread agreement on Capitol Hill.

“Making sure that we have broadband provisions in place that recognize the situation in Alaska—how do we build out that versatility so that broadband needs can be met?” Murkowski said.

Murkowski said the framework she and her colleagues crafted has Congress moving in the right direction—now they need to write the massive piece of legislation and get 60 senators to vote for it.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-MS) said he is optimistic about this framework, but also said he is concerned that Democrats will demand another large spending package be passed simultaneously, which would fund things like family care and housing. Wicker only supports the spending laid out by the bipartisan negotiators.

“We need an accomplishment,” he said. “And we need to build infrastructure for the good of the economy. I think it will mean jobs and safety for Americans.”

Lawmakers expect the bill writing process to take weeks. The Senate is currently on a two-week recess.

Grace Ferguson contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 Gray DC. All rights reserved.