Omitted from State of Union, Broadband Still in White House Plan
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Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Omitted from State of Union, Broadband Still in White House Plan

President Trump did not mention broadband networks in his State of the Union address last night when he called on Congress “to produce a bill that generates at least $1.5 trillion for the new infrastructure investment that our country so desperately needs,” but a White House release offering more details on the long-awaited infrastructure proposal did include “expanding broadband access” alongside “rebuilding roads, providing clean water to rural families and businesses,” and “supplying affordable, reliable power” as the goals to be accomplished with the funds.

The dollar figure is a 50% increase over the $1 trillion mentioned by the president in an address to Congress last year (TR Daily, March 1, 2017). However, in its fact sheet on the proposal released last night, the White House did not specify how much money the president wants Congress to appropriate, and how much he expects to “leverage” from state, local, and private sources.

In a “fact check” released during the State of the Union address, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) pointed to recent media reports that the federal spending under the plan would only be $200 million over 10 years, with the other $1.3 trillion to come from states, localities, and the private sector.

Speaking to both houses of Congress last night, President Trump said, “Every Federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with State and local governments and, where appropriate, tapping into private sector investment — to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit. And we can do it.”

He added, “Any bill must also streamline the permitting and approval process — getting it down to no more than two years, and perhaps even one.

“Together, we can reclaim our great building heritage. We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land. And we will do it with American heart, American hands, and American grit,” he continued.

The White House said that the $1.5 trillion infrastructure investment will be spread out over the next decade, that “[h]alf of the new infrastructure funds would go towards incentivizing new state and local investments in infrastructure,” and that “President Trump’s plan will empower state and local authorities to prioritize infrastructure projects based on their community’s needs.”

It added that “[a] quarter of the Federal funds will be dedicated to addressing rural infrastructure needs prioritized by state and local leaders” and that the president’s “proposal will encourage the development of new, transformative infrastructure projects.”

The tech sector and other potential beneficiaries have been hoping to see the infrastructure proposal since the early days of the Trump administration, although shortly after the 2016 election, Mr. Trump said that infrastructure would not be a “core” priority during the first few years of his administration.

However, last year, during an address to a joint session of Congress, he said, “To launch our national rebuilding, I will be asking the Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion investment in the infrastructure of the United States — financed through both public and private capital — creating millions of new jobs.” In that speech he also omitted broadband and telecom systems, although a vision statement issued during the campaign did mention telecommunications along with transportation, water, and energy infrastructure.

Another issue of interest to the tech sector mentioned by President Trump in last night’s speech was visas for skilled workers. The president said that his immigration reform plan calls for an end to “the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit, or the safety of American people. It is time to begin moving towards a merit-based immigration system — one that admits people who are skilled, who want to work, who will contribute to our society, and who will love and respect our country.”

The president also pledged to “protect American workers and American intellectual property, through strong enforcement of our trade rules.”

The speech made no mention of cybersecurity or securing U.S. election systems from hacking.

The White House cited the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative probe initiated last summer into Chinese trade practices “related to forced technology transfer, unfair licensing, and intellectual property (IP) policies and practices” among the evidence of the administration’s efforts to promote “free, fair, and reciprocal trade” (TR Daily, Aug. 14, 2017).

Reactions to the State of the Union address and its tech-related provisions were divided on partisan lines.

In an interview for a Milwaukee TV station, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) emphasized that the infrastructure proposal is “not just roads and bridges, but it's canals, it's harbors, its broadband, it's our electrical grid, it’s power plants and things like that.” He also said that his own legislative aims for 2018 include helping “people get the skills they need to get those good jobs and that's a skills gap we have in Wisconsin and around the country.”

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R., Ore.) said, “At the Energy and Commerce Committee we support President Trump’s mission to improve our country’s infrastructure, ensure the U.S. is a world leader in innovation, and unleash our unsurpassed energy potential.”

Rep. Bob Goodlatte (R., Va.), the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over intellectual property and immigration issues, said, “I have worked hard with my colleagues in the House to craft legislation built on the priorities outlined in the President’s agenda that will increase border security and interior enforcement, crack down on sanctuary cities, curb gang activity and violence, end failed programs, like the visa lottery, that have brought dangerous individuals into the United States, and provide DACA recipients a reasonable, long-term legislative solution. I look forward to working with the White House to ensure we have an immigration system that works for America.”

The official Democratic response, delivered by Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D., Mass.), focused on what he said was the administration’s attack on “the very idea that we are all worthy of protection,” and the treatment of “American life” as a “zero-sum game” that pits rural communities against inner cities and “the coast” against “the heartland.” While he did say that Democrats “choose … roads and bridges that won’t rust away,” he didn’t reference broadband infrastructure or make explicit callouts to other tech issues.

House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said, “The infrastructure proposal the President spoke about tonight falls into this same litany of failures and broken promises. President Trump campaigned on a pledge to bring both parties together behind a plan to invest in rebuilding our infrastructure networks, but the American people have had to wait more than a year to see what he would propose. Now we know: it’s merely more rhetoric without any details on how to move forward, and it does not appear to be the strong investment in a twenty-first century infrastructure that our country sorely needs.”

The reaction from the National Association of Counties was more positive.

NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase said, ““Counties invest significantly in infrastructure — physical and human — roads and bridges, public facilities, water and sewer systems, broadband and telecommunications. We own and maintain 46 percent of all public road miles and 39 percent of the nation’s bridge inventory. We are involved in a third of the nation’s public transportation systems and airports that connect residents, communities and businesses. Investing in infrastructure means investing in every American community. With President Trump’s commitment to strengthening our infrastructure, we stand ready to work across the span of society — with the public, private, nonprofit sectors — to reinvest in our communities.” —Lynn Stanton, lynn.stanton@wolterskluwer.com

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