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Outlook Bleak for Infrastructure Bill in 2017

Mari Silbey

President Donald Trump has scrapped plans to form an infrastructure advisory council according to a report by Bloomberg citing "a person familiar with the matter."

The move, if confirmed, would follow the breakup of two other advisory councils in the wake of the president's reaction to racist violence in Charlottesville last weekend, but also emphasizes the difficulty the administration continues to have in its attempt to move forward with a major US infrastructure bill. The infrastructure council would have advised the president on how to spend as much as $1 trillion on public works projects to improve American infrastructure, including telecom networks. President Trump has committed to working with Congress to get an infrastructure bill passed, but his plans have been repeatedly sidelined as the legislative branch struggles to tackle other major issues, including healthcare reform. (See also Intel CEO Leaves Trump Biz Advisory Board.)

For the telecom industry, a new infrastructure bill would be expected to spur network investments, bringing more money to broadband buildout projects either through direct grants or through tax and lending incentives. Theoretically, it would stimulate operator capex budgets, which would benefit not only the operators themselves, but also telecom vendor companies and employees throughout the industry.

Typically, an infrastructure package would focus on improving assets like roads and railways, but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have urged the president to consider broadband as part of any federal infrastructure strategy. Trump appeared to heed those recommendations in June by stating that his infrastructure proposal would include provisions for expanding rural broadband access.

For more broadband market coverage and insights, check out our dedicated gigabit/broadband content channel here on Light Reading.

According to Trump's chief economic advisor Gary Cohn, the administration is still aiming to produce an infrastructure package for Congress to pass before the end of year. However, there is little to suggest that the goal is achievable. For one thing, lawmakers have to contend with highly controversial tax reform issues even before they address infrastructure. And for another, legislators are unlikely to agree on the best way to implement incentives for infrastructure improvement.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI), ranking member on the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, expressed skepticism as far back as February over the likelihood that an infrastructure bill would get done.

Schatz said at the time, "As we think through a broadband deployment agenda, as we think through infrastructure priorities in the tech space, don't necessarily hitch your wagon to a bill which is now just a twinkle in someone's eye. There is no bill yet. There is no consensus. There is no real working group. There is no approach yet." (See Sen. Schatz: No Big Infrastructure Bill Coming.)

Meanwhile, work continues at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to find ways to accelerate broadband deployments through the broadband deployment advisory committee (BDAC). (See On Broadband, FCC Talks Carrots, Not Sticks.)

However, without an infrastructure bill, the BDAC won't be able to use federal dollars to strengthen any of its proposals.

— Mari Silbey, Senior Editor, Cable/Video, Light Reading

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