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Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Chairman John Thune said his committee still envisions federal funding for broadband deployment in an infrastructure package, despite plans floated by the White House to exclude it.
“We’re hearing it’s not going to include broadband, but you know I think in our mind it does,” Thune (R-S.D.) told Bloomberg Law in a recent interview.
Thune’s stance signals a potential split with the White House on the issue.
“I think there will be a lot of interest among our members on our committee in the digital space having a place in an infrastructure bill,” Thune added. “How that happens and what that funding mechanism might be is an open question.”
Tech companies, internet service providers and civil society groups have called for investments to expand internet infrastructure and lessen the digital divide as part of a broader infrastructure package promised by President Donald Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign. In June, Trump called for broadband deployment provisions to be included in the plan. A White House official has since said any related funding would likely be provided in separate legislation.
Thune said although current plans from the administration didn’t appear to have a “carve out” for digital infrastructure, a final plan—now slated to be released in January— might include some incentives. He said his committee was focused on expanding internet access and digital infrastructure as part of a push to create jobs and boost U.S. competitiveness.
“We’re obviously interested in that aspect of infrastructure,” Thune told Bloomberg Law. “I think the build-out of expanding the internet is going to be a high priority for us in everything that we do next year—getting into 5G, creating more spectrum, the internet of things.”
The White House has said its infrastructure plan will still boost broadband expansion by including provisions that streamline the process of siting and permitting for facilities and equipment.
Thune pointed to two pieces of legislation he is involved with that could help in this effort. The MOBILE NOW Act ( S. 19), which the Senate passed in August, aims to reduce barriers to broadband deployment on federal lands. Thune is finalizing a draft bill with Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) that would focus on non-federal areas.
“I could see either or both of those bills perhaps being a part of an infrastructure package,” Thune told Bloomberg Law. “I think the administration is very focused on those issues as well.”
-With assistance from Kyle Daly
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