A leaked six-page draft of the White House infrastructure plan contains little mention of broadband, focusing most of its attention -- and funding -- on roads, bridges, tunnels and similar physical construction investments.
It also does not include specific dollar amounts of either the funding or what partners are expected to bring to a deal. But the document is the closest the public has come to seeing President Donald Trump's long-time pledge to spend $1 trillion on the United States' infrastructure.
First posted by Axios, the plan recommends that 50% of appropriations are spent on "Infrastructure Investment Initiatives" that use grants to encourage private and local investment in projects. About one-fourth of monies would go to a "Rural Infrastructure Program," and 10% would be designated for "Transformative Projects Program," the plan said.
The federal government would pay, at most, 20% of these Infrastructure Investment costs. That's half the current 40% rate the government currently pays for transportation and water infrastructure build-out, according to the Congressional Budget Office. But it would pay up to 80% of capital construction costs for Transformative Projects. As Laura Bliss wrote in CityLab, perhaps Elon Musk was right: Taxpayers will pay for his Hyperloop.
The remainder of these infrastructure funds would be split between increasing existing federal lending programs to grow investments (7%) and to create a "revolving fund [for] purchases of federally owned civilian real property" (5%), according to the document.
Nothing in this plan specifically addresses broadband infrastructure, despite many conversations and lobbying efforts leading up to the creation of this leaked document.
Reed Cordish, a White House tech policy advisor, told an Internet Association conference that the administration had a comprehensive, 70-page memo of infrastructure principles, according to The Hill . After being finalized, the White House planned to submit it to Congress for use as a building block lawmakers could use to draft an infrastructure package, he said.
Statehood rights rule
The leaked plan abides by President Donald Trump's goal of a smaller federal role in paying for and overseeing infrastructure projects. For example, the document includes the elimination of the federal government's restrictions on interstate tolling.
Governors will have flexibility in how they use their Rural Infrastructure funds, able to plunk down dollars on everything from transportation and flood risk management to electricity transmission and broadband, including "other high-speed data and communication conduits."
It's smart to leave more controls in the hands of local governors; who knows more about the needs of a state than the man or woman elected to oversee that region? And, of course, rural broadband gets additional funding from other federal sources. But it's unclear how much infrastructure money would actually go to rural communities to deliver broadband services and whether any underserved suburban or urban regions get access to this funding too.
There is another glimmer of connected light within the Transformative Project category, which the Department of Commerce will oversee. Covered sectors include telecommunications, as well as transportation, clean and drinking water, energy and commercial space, the plan said.
Reading the specifications, this project bodes well for CSPs -- but perhaps not cable operators -- involved in smart cities (and maybe, smart homes). The program demands that "applicable projects must be exploratory and ground-breaking ideas that have more risk than standard infrastructure projects but offer a larger reward profile." Providers compete for federal funding and technical assistance for their "innovative and transformative infrastructure projects" because they've been unsuccessful garnering private sector funding because of their programs' uniqueness, the White House wrote.
Applicants can apply for all or specific tracks from a list that includes planning, construction and deployment; evaluation of demo trials; project planning and capital construction.
Because this program is contracted as a financial partnership agreement, if it generates profits the federal government has the right to share in any fiscal gain although it would not be on the board or own any intellectual property. In addition, the applicant is subject to rules including minimum match requirements and Commerce Department administration.
"We are not going to comment on the contents of a leaked document but look forward to presenting our plan in the near future," White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters told Axios.
We're all waiting.
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.