President Biden in his speech to Congress this week highlighted the broadband funding section of his $2 trillion in The American Jobs Plan. He said that Vice President Kamala Harris will take the lead in promoting $100 billion for broadband projects. The announcement came a few days after Harris praised the role of rural co-ops in broadband deployment during a visit to NRTC member New Hampshire Electric Cooperative (NHEC).
The American Jobs Plan “will create thousands and thousands of good-paying jobs. It creates jobs connecting every American with high-speed internet, including 35 percent of rural America that still doesn’t have it,” Biden said according to a New York Times transcript of the speech. “This is going to help our kids and our businesses succeed in the 21st century economy. And I’m asking the vice president to lead this effort, if she would, because I know it will get done.”
During her April 23 visit to NHEC in Plymouth, NH, Harris said that the American Jobs Plan would emphasize support for cooperatives and other nonprofit organizations working in the community. Standing next to supplies of fiber optic cable NHEC is using in its broadband construction, Harris compared the current drive to build rural broadband to federal rural electrification programs in the 1930s.
“Why we are here today is because of what you have been doing at this co-op, building on that [rural electrification] legacy,” Harris said according to a video from WMUR-TV Manchester, NH. “We have a legacy of doing this work in America … making sure everyone has access to the basic things they need and now in this year of our Lord 2021, that's broadband.”
NHEC CEO Steve Camerino (pictured above with Harris) told the vice president that the co-op is applying its new fiber optic facilities not only to consumer broadband access, but to deploy smart-grid technologies to improve service to its electric customers. “But we really can’t do that alone. Just like back in the 30s, we need federal support so that we can be sure to get this off the ground and not have electric consumers bearing the financial risks,” he said.
Camerino mentioned support NHEC received last year, distributed through the state. In addition, NHEC won support through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund reverse auction in 2020, participating in the NRTC Phase I RDOF Consortium.
Congress and the administration have much work ahead of them before potentially passing the broadband funding. The plan is likely to go through extensive negotiations and revisions in the months ahead. Senate Republicans last week released an alternative $568 billion infrastructure funding plan that would set aside $65 billion for broadband. Neither side has provided details of how they intend to distribute funding.
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