Under President Donald Trump's infrastructure plan, the federal government will place control of $40 billion of the $50 billion allotted to rural infrastructure in the hands of each state's governor.
States then will decide when and how to use these funds on rural capital infrastructure investments such as broadband, power generation, water facilities, transportation or other assets, according to a blog posted on WhiteHouse.gov on Feb. 20.
The feds will distribute the remaining 20% of the $50 billion as "rural performance grants" based on competitive criteria, including more rural broadband investment. Some funding will also be dedicated to Native American tribes and territories, the blog said.
In addition, the plan aims to accelerate deployment for fiber, towers and other broadband infrastructure by "incentivizing private capital investment," including public-private partnerships where allowed by law. Trump wants at least $1.5 trillion in new investment for all infrastructure and to abbreviate the project approval process to two years. (See 7 Best Practices for Broadband Public-Private Partnerships.)
Add it to the bill
Recently, a bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday introduced the "Streamlining and Investing in Broadband Infrastructure Act," which is designed to cut regulations for those companies and government agencies looking to increase broadband coverage in rural regions.
Co-sponsored by Senators Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), the bill mandates the inclusion of broadband infrastructure in any federal transportation projects in rural America. For example, if federal monies fund the construction of new highways or lane additions, broadband technology -- such as fiber -- must be installed so multiple providers then can use it to deploy services to residents and businesses.
"Access to broadband is access to the modern economy," Gardner said in a statement. "This bill would make federal construction projects more efficient by encouraging simultaneous construction of transportation and broadband infrastructure."
Although some states, like Idaho and Utah, already have a dig-once policy, this bill will help service providers cut unnecessary costs and accelerate deployment, thereby allowing them to more quickly deliver services to rural customers -- and begin earning a return on their not insubstantial investment, Jason Williams, CEO of Blackfoot Telecommunications told the Missoulian. (See Get 'Dig Once' Out of Its Rut.)
"Any time steps are taken to eliminate or reduce the amount of permitting we have to do in order to deploy broadband, it's a good thing. This bill takes important steps to limit the overhead involved with putting more broadband facilities in the ground," he said. "The Idaho Department of Transportation [has] a program where whenever they have highway construction they put an empty conduit in the ground. Then they can lease out that empty conduit. It's a great way of doing business because fiber is cheap, but construction is expensive."
— Alison Diana, Editor, Broadband World News. Follow us on Twitter or @alisoncdiana.