As lawmakers in Washington, DC, prepare to go home for the Memorial Day holiday, the fate of President Biden's broadband infrastructure plan (and the infrastructure package as a whole) remains unclear.
Last week, the White House sent a memo to congressional Republicans alerting them of Biden's willingness to shave $35 billion from his $100 billion broadband proposal, thus matching the cost that Republicans had attached to their own broadband bill released in April. The pitch to Republicans was part of an overall offer to reduce the infrastructure package cost to $1.7 trillion from $2 trillion, in an effort to move closer to striking a bipartisan deal.
On the broadband front, the White House reportedly told Republicans that it thinks universal broadband is possible at $65 billion – though less efficiently so.
"We believe we can still achieve universal access to affordable high-speed Internet at your lower funding level, though it will take longer," the White House told Republicans, according to NPR. "Any funding agreement would need to be paired with reforms to ensure these investments create good jobs, promote greater competition, and close the digital divide."
While Republicans may find the price tag friendlier, partisan disagreement remains on how that money should be spent. Plus, just because Senate Republicans pitched a $65 billion bill last month doesn't necessarily mean that's where they will end up.
Indeed, just last week, House Republicans released another broadband bill – the American Broadband Act – with a price tag of $23 billion over five years, which calls for "a light-touch regulatory environment and targeted investments – rather than cumbersome government-run networks," according to the bill's cosponsors, Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) and Bob Latta (R-OH).
That specific language may end up being the sticking point for negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress. As previously reported here, the digital divide in the US is being upheld by a divide amongst lawmakers about whether to fund municipal broadband, with many Republicans speaking out against that option, supported by talking points from cable lobbyists about municipal broadband's failure, and with Democrats firmly in favor, supported by community groups and non-profit organizations who say a public model is the only way to achieve universal broadband in places where the ISPs will not go.
Further, the mere idea of achieving "bipartisanship" in a Congress that can't cross the aisle to come together on anything, including whether or not to investigate the January 6 attack on their literal lives, remains elusive. Plus, with the Senate filibuster rule still in place – and Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona opposed to repealing it – Biden will need to win an unlikely ten Republican votes for an eventual broadband infrastructure bill, unless Democrats get permission from the senate parliamentarian to pass it with a simple majority as part of budget reconciliation.
Following recent meetings with President Biden, Republicans are expected to propose a counter offer on infrastructure on Thursday, just before the holiday recess, according to CBS News. The new proposal "will be close to $1 trillion, which Republicans say is the minimum amount that Mr. Biden has said he will accept for an infrastructure bill."
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor and host of "The Divide" and "What's the Story?" Light Reading
(Featured image source: The White House on Flickr.)