Biden administration indicates willingness to accept Republicans’ lower funding offer for broadband plan, amidst negotiations over broader $2tn package
The US presidential administration has signalled it is willing to accept reduced broadband funding as part of negotiations over a broader $2 trillion (£1.41bn) infrastructure package.
President Biden last month proposed $100bn over eight years to bring high-speed broadband to underserved areas as part of his wider plan, compared to a proposal by Republicans in Congress that would allocate only $65bn.
The White House said on Friday it would be willing to accept the Republican plan, on certain conditions, in order to win support for the infrastructure package.
“We believe we can still achieve universal access to affordable high-speed internet at your lower funding level, though it will take longer,” the administration said in a memo to Senate Republicans.
“Any funding agreement would need to be paired with reforms to ensure these investments create good jobs, promote greater competition, and close the digital divide,” the administration added.
Democratic lawmakers, in a separate bill, have called for $80bn in broadband funding.
Biden said the funding was aimed at “future-proofing” the country’s broadband network, which some have interpreted as an investment in 1Gbps fibre connections, although this hasn’t been specified.
The plan would also show preference for networks owned, operated by or affiliated with local governments, non-profits or co-operatives with “less pressure to turn profits”, a provision that has proven controversial with established networking companies.
Michael Powell, head of the industry trade group NCTA, said in April it was wrong “either to prioritise government-owned networks or micromanage private networks, including the unfounded assertion that the government should be managing prices”.
The FCC has said there are fewer than 14.5 million people in the US who lack access to 25 Mbps broadband, although some consider thisan underestimate, with independent research group BroadbandNow estimating the figure at closer to 42 million.
Some industry watchers also take issue with the 25 Mbps level for indicating a basic level of broadband speed, noting that in countries such as Denmark, Switzerland and South Korea average speeds are several times higher.
In the UK, premises have a legal right to 10 Mbps broadband connections under the Universal Service Obligation (USO), but government plans focus on rolling out 1 Gbps fibre connections across the country – although the plan has seen setbacks due to Covid-19.
In April a group of US senators urged the administration to support a rollout of 100 Mbps broadband.