On Wednesday, bipartisan Senate negotiators reached a deal on an infrastructure package after weeks of tense discussion. The package includes billions in new funding, including more money to connect every household to high-speed broadband, according to the White House.
The Senate’s infrastructure package is expected to be around $1.2 trillion over the next eight years with around $559 billion in new spending. The White House sent out a press release Wednesday outlining what’s included in the bill, focusing on “hard” infrastructure issues like roads, bridges, EV charging, public transit, and high-speed broadband. Specifically, the package includes a $65 billion “investment ensuring every American has access to reliable high-speed internet,” according to the White House.
Telecom companies that receive this funding will be required to offer “low-cost affordable” internet plans to consumers along with easy ways to “comparison shop” amongst providers. Still, the bill text remains unwritten and it’s unclear how the new investment in broadband will be delegated.
The $65 billion figure is significantly lower than what President Joe Biden originally proposed last March. The administration’s initial goal was to pass $100 billion in broadband spending and include language that would prioritize networks affiliated with local governments, nonprofits, and cooperatives.
The White House also announced Wednesday that the package would include language from the Digital Equity Act that would create a permanent program to subsidize the cost of broadband for low-income families along with a new program to help pay for devices like laptops and tablets.
As the Senate moves to start voting on this package tonight, the agency in charge of broadband expansion, the Federal Communications Commission, is still without a permanent leader. Earlier this year, former FCC Chair Ajit Pai stepped down, leaving the agency deadlocked with two Republicans and two Democrats. Biden has yet to appoint a fifth commissioner or formally appoint a permanent chair.