Broadband Conversation in House Ranges From Investment to ‘Red Tape’

March 21, 2017 at 1:03 pm ET

A House subcommittee hearing on Tuesday highlighted varying priorities in the congressional broadband debate, with Republicans calling for improvements to issuing permits and Democrats emphasizing the need for more federal investment.

“We must cut through red tape by streamlining permitting processes” to boost broadband infrastructure, said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.), head of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology that hosted the hearing.

Blackburn was promoting a draft bill supported by fellow Republicans on the panel that’s designed to make it easier for companies to construct broadband infrastructure by creating templates for leases and identifying federal assets for communications infrastructure.

Rep. Mike Doyle, the top Democrat on the subcommittee, said that while the bill is “fine” and will “address a number of challenges to deploying broadband,” the solution does not get at the “real problem, which is that there isn’t a viable business case for investing in these regions.”

Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, the full committee’s ranking member, added to that by criticizing plans to spur broadband deployment in rural and tribal regions through tax incentives. “I have seen some suggest that tax incentives will somehow increase broadband in rural and tribal areas,” Pallone said, noting that “tax cuts alone won’t get it done, especially in areas where there is not a strong business case like tribal lands.”

Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai has floated a proposal that would provide tax incentives to companies in an effort to motivate carriers to improve nationwide connectivity.

Pallone also said lawmakers should pass a “real infrastructure bill” that includes $40 billion to deploy broadband. President Donald Trump last month said he would call on Congress to pass a $1 trillion infrastructure bill, but he did not mention broadband when making that announcement.

Members of both parties have shown interest in making broadband a component of an eventual infrastructure measure.

“This should be part of an infrastructure package,” Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.) said at Tuesday’s hearing. “If there’s ever going to be a $1 trillion infrastructure rollout, obviously this should be part of that.”

The timeline for when an infrastructure package is still being worked out. Mick Mulvaney, who heads the Office of Management and Budget, said this week on NBC’s “Meet The Press” that he envisions the infrastructure package getting pushed back to summer or early fall.

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