Trump Administration Update on the American Broadband Initiative

Benton Foundation

Friday, February 15, 2019

Weekly Digest

Trump Administration Update on the American Broadband Initiative

 You’re reading the Benton Foundation’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) telecommunications stories of the week. The round-up is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Digest for the Week of February 11-15, 2019

Robbie McBeath


On February 13, 2019, the White House released the American Broadband Initiative Milestones Report, an update on the Trump Administration’s signature inter-agency strategy to stimulate increased private investment in broadband infrastructure and services to fill broadband connectivity gaps in America. As the White House noted, the ABI “is based on a fundamental principle: nothing drives innovation more effectively than unleashing the free market economy."


The ABI mission is built on three core principles:

  1. Government processes should be clear, transparent, and responsive to stakeholders. 
  2. Federal assets should provide the greatest possible benefit to stakeholders and the public. 
  3. The Federal Government should be a good steward of taxpayer funds. 

The new report, mandated by Congress, highlights how federal agencies are working together to increase private-sector investment in broadband and outlines future actions. The American Broadband Initiative (ABI): 

What's In It?

American Broadband Initiative Milestones Report

The report outlines a vision for how the Federal Government can increase broadband access and actions that federal agencies are taking to increase private-sector investment in broadband. Under the leadership of the White House, the Department of Agriculture, and the Department of Commerce, the ABI takes in input from over 20 federal agencies. [The Federal Communications Commission -- an independent regulatory agency -- is a consulting member of the ABI.]


The report highlights the following actions by Federal Agencies:

1. Launch and Effectively Execute $600 million in New Federal Investment in Rural Broadband: The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is preparing to deploy a new congressional appropriation of $600 million for an innovative broadband pilot program, based on modern, effective strategies that will catalyze increased private-sector investment in broadband infrastructure. These investments will prioritize projects that deploy broadband infrastructure in rural areas that are currently insufficiently connected, with the goal of increasing productivity and improving rural quality of life. 

2. Leverage the Department of the Interior (DOI) Towers for Communications Use: Consistent with the Presidential Memorandum on Supporting Broadband Tower Facilities in Rural America on Federal Properties Managed by the Department of the Interior, the DOI inventoried and mapped over 7,000 tower locations and will make that information publicly available via a Geographical Information System (GIS) mapping tool. These towers, primarily located in rural areas, will be available to service providers looking to locate equipment on Federal property as they expand wireless and wireline broadband networks. Acting U.S. Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt announced that a new DOI website and report outlines DOI’s plan and potential solutions to both improve and streamline the permitting process. The  site also includes a new mapping tool: the Joint Overview-Established Locations (JOEL) map. The JOEL map, hosted by the Bureau of Land Management, identifies existing communications infrastructure located on federally managed lands as well as agency contact information, enabling greater insight into colocation opportunities. 

3. Provide Tools for Expedited Access to Federal Assets in Priority Markets: The General Services Administration (GSA) has solicited input from the public on priority markets and assets needed to expand mobile access in underserved markets. GSA will pair that input with new and existing data sources, such as the map of DOI-managed land and towers, to identify and visualize federal assets which can be leveraged by service providers to expand build-outs in these markets. Additionally, GSA will work with other Federal Agencies to utilize existing statutory authorities to streamline commercial access to assets in these markets. The resulting tools will supply the broadband industry with a new powerful resource to incorporate federal assets into their expansion plans.

4. Create One-Stop for Broadband Permitting Information: The NTIA will publish flow-charts reflecting current permitting workflows for the most common asset types providing a single location for information on federal permitting of broadband infrastructure. This will include land managed by DOI’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and USDA’s Forest Service , buildings managed by GSA, and towers owned or managed by DOI. As processes are further streamlined, the BroadbandUSA website will be updated to reflect the latest process improvements.

5. Revise Common Application Form and Quarterly Metrics for Permit Requests: Consistent with Executive Order 13821, Streamlining and Expediting Requests to Locate Broadband Facilities in Rural America, GSA will revise the common application form for permit requests to be more responsive to stakeholder needs. Additionally, all land managing agencies will provide GSA with quarterly reports on permitting applications, including the number of applications received, the number approved, the number rejected, the basis for any rejection, and the number of working days each application was pending before being approved or rejected. This data will provide transparency to the public and allow agencies to continue to improve responsiveness.

The report claims the ABI will achieve its goals through three interagency workstreams: 

  1. Streamlining federal permitting processes making it easier for network builders and service providers to access Federal assets and rights-of-way, reducing the regulatory burden and simplifying the deployment of broadband networks; 
  2. Leveraging Federal assets  to lower the cost of broadband buildouts and encourage private-sector companies to expand telecommunications infrastructure, especially in rural America; and
  3. Maximizing the effectiveness of federal funding for broadband to make better and more efficient use of federal dollars. 

Beyond this work, the report highlights the following:

  • NTIA and the U.S. Census Bureau are introducing new detailed information on computer and Internet use across the country with detailed information at the neighborhood level, as well as demographic analysis and trend data. 
  • The National Science Foundation continues to champion Internet innovation through the U.S. Ignite application summit and the new NSF Wireless Innovation Networked Society (NSF WINS) challenge. 
  • The Department of Education is expanding its national survey to measure progress on the effective use of technology to improve learning and to better understand how digital access influences equity and civil rights. 
  • USDA is conducting a new study on the economic benefits of precision agriculture and the DOL is conducting new research to help better leverage technology-based learning in their service portfolio. 
  • A number of Agencies are collaborating to improve access to telemedicine, leverage Federal funds to improve connectivity at health clinics, and map the relationship between broadband access and health outcomes. 
  • HUD continues to work with partners to promote broadband access through the ConnectHOME program while IMLS works with libraries and Tribes to create a “Digital Literacy Corps.” 
  • FCC is creating a connected care pilot program to support the delivery of telehealth services to low-income Americans.

Next Steps

The ABI report identifies the following next steps:

  • Make it easier for local leaders and businesses to work with Federal Agencies.
  • Free up resources and encourage private investment across all sectors of the economy. 
  • Monitor the implementation of these commitments and share the results publicly with stakeholders.
  • Continue to look for additional actions to streamline government processes, free up resources, and improve the impact of federal investments. 
  • Continue to engage with and listen to the American people to ensure that our country is more connected and more competitive. 
  • Issue periodic updates, indicating what actions have been completed, new actions taken, and where changes have been made. 
  • If new legislation is needed, the White House will work with Congress to propose changes.

Broadband Maps

The ABI release coincided with news about NTIA’s work to update the national broadband map. NTIA is working with eight states to update broadband availability data, as directed by Congress in The Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2018.  

The eight states – California, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Tennessee, Utah, and West Virginia – will contribute data and other inputs to the map, giving policymakers a deeper understanding of which parts of the country lack broadband access. 

The initial eight state partners were chosen because they reflect geographic diversity, participate in NTIA’s State Broadband Leaders Network, have active state broadband plans or programs, and were willing to contribute data. NTIA expects to seek participation from additional states, territories and federally recognized tribes that have broadband programs or related data-collection efforts. 

The map, aimed for a September release, will include available nationwide data for every state combined with state-level data from the eight states.

The maps will be a welcomed tool for policymakers. Inconsistencies, poor data collection, and conflicting interests have resulted in inaccurate and unhelpful maps of broadband coverage. This week, Rani Molla described the discrepancies between broadband maps and the importance of getting it right. "High-speed internet is not really available where the government says it is," she wrote. "And that misinformation means that a lot of Americans, especially those in poor and rural areas, can’t get access to broadband — a service that is becoming more and more integral to daily life in the US."

Fortunately, getting more accurate wireless and wired broadband maps has bipartisan support -- and the issue was a hot topic again on Capitol Hill this week. 

The same day the API report was released, the House Communications Subcommittee held a hearing examining T-Mobile’s proposed acquisition of Sprint. Lawmakers used the opportunity to express their frustration over inaccurate wireless coverage maps. 

“In a lot of Vermont, we have no-G. These maps,” said Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), waving a coverage map of his state, “are bogus.” 

Rep. Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ) complained that when he returns home to his district, “Half the time that map says I should be covered. Half the time I’m not, by anybody.”

Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-NM) quipped that he often gets better internet service on airplanes as he’s flying over his home state of New Mexico than he does while on the ground there. “I don’t understand that,” he said.

T-Mobile and Sprint vowed that if the deal is approved by regulators, coverage in rural areas will improve as the combined company invests more in those areas.


Just over a year ago, President Trump's long-awaited infrastructure proposal was unveiled. But it contained no specific dedicated funding for rural broadband infrastructure. [See: President Trump's Infrastructure Plan Unveiled, And It's Light on Broadband] Now the Trump Administration is making it clearer that the billions needed to connect everyone to broadband will come from private investment facilitated by cutting red tape and access to federal assets. The Trump Administration stands ready to serve the private broadband industry better. The question remains: will the private broadband industry serve rural America better?

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

We All Agree on Net Neutrality, Except When We Don’t…Again, Robbie McBeath

Flexibility, Humility, Connectivity: Three Ingredients for a Successful Career, Gigi Sohn

Brandeis, Competition, and Sectorial Regulation, Jonathan Sallet

February Events

Feb 20 -- Measuring the Digital Divide: Review of Recent Surveys and Data, NTIA

Feb 20 -- Screening and discussion of "Do Not Pass Go", National League of Cities

Feb 21 -- Key Concepts in Spectrum Policy, SHLB Coalition

Feb 27 -- The INCOMPAS 2019 Policy Summit

Feb 27 -- Policy Principles for a Federal Data Privacy Framework in the United States, Senate Commerce Committee hearing 

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By Robbie McBeath.