As the 2020 Election winds down, many are starting to analyze how a change in the Administration and which party will control the House and the Senate will affect the legislative agenda in 2021 and beyond. For those in fiber, experts say we can anticipate changes but no seismic shifts.
At a recent Fiber for Breakfast live video series, FBA’s lobbyist team and our regulatory counsel spoke on what the changes on Capitol Hill mean for fiber deployment and policy in the near future. And while we will see policy differences with a shift to a Democrat-controlled White House, the consensus is that broadband connectivity is a bipartisan issue.
“The good news is that both Democrats and Republicans are starting to realize, particularly with the pandemic, the importance of not only broadband deployment but of the right broadband deployment that supports all of the uses that people are relying on as they work and learn from home,” said Kim Bayliss, a principal at Perry Bayliss Government Relations.
Support for telecom—specifically broadband deployment—is historically a bipartisan issue. The biggest philosophical differences between the parties have been about how much money these projects get and how they’re built.
There are several committees within Congress that deal specifically with these types of projects. In the House Energy and Commerce Committee Democrats remain in control, but Republicans will be able to add members after picking up seats in the House. The Senate Commerce Committee remains Republican-controlled, but margins remain tight.
What it comes down to for those in the fiber industry, though, will be forging strong relationships with those individual members of Congress from their state, especially if they’re on either committee. Steve Perry, principal at Perry Bayliss Government Relations, said because these issues are so bipartisan, it will come down to educating members of Congress on best practices when it comes to implementation.
“For our purposes, it’s still important to develop some champions on these committees on both the Democrat and Republican side,” he said. “It’s less important about the number [of Republicans or Democrats] than it is for us to encourage the delegations that are in states you come from to work together. The kind of things we need—more funding for broadband deployment, preferences for gigabit speeds—those are really going to require them to come together.”
Funding is going to be the divider when it comes to Republicans and Democrats. President-Elect Joe Biden stated he will pass a new coronavirus relief bill, which is likely to include some funding for infrastructure. It’s also likely some funding will come from final appropriation bills passed before the end of the year.
Biden is also expected to invest heavily in infrastructure under his administration. Perry said while infrastructure spending is needed for fiber deployment, those funds are also allocated to other critical infrastructure needs, such as roads, bridges and airports.
“It’s a big nut to crack,” he said. “But I do think there is bipartisan interest.”
Another change under the Biden Administration would be the makeup of the FCC. Tom Cohen, partner at Kelley Drye & Warren LLP, said Democrats will control the FCC. It’s likely they will take up the open internet issue and lobby to increase the benchmark for passable broadband service. Funding is also an issue there, too. In order to get better broadband mapping, the FCC will need funding from Congress.
A silver lining, though, is that for both Congress and the FCC, the pandemic has exposed a need. It’s also shown the strength of fiber networks underneath intense usage. As private investment continues to explode in fiber, legislators are beginning to understand the need to incentivize bridging the digital divide.
“Our broadband networks held up as part of the pandemic,” Cohen said. “We’re seeing in this industry an incredible investment -- $75 billion a year from the private sector. It’s been like this for over a decade and I expect it to continue. That’s a good news story, we need to focus in on those people that don’t have fiber and bring it to them.”
While exactly how the election will shakeout remains to be seen, Bayliss said it’s never too early for fiber companies to reach out to their local legislators to educate them about fiber.
“I think being able to go in and show them the evidence of why this is important is necessary,” Bayliss said. “That’s where we can step in and help ourselves.”
Join us for the next Fiber for Breakfast live video series on Nov. 18 at 10 am ET. The topic: COVID-19 Impact on Small/Medium Business – Internet Survey Analysis.