Broadband debate emerges in $1.2T infrastructure bill, bipartisanship falters on rural, urban divide

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The Senate’s bipartisan infrastructure proposal hit a snag Friday over Democrats’ objections to which areas of the country get taxpayer dollars to expand broadband service.

A Senate Democratic aide said they are concerned the proposal worked out by a bipartisan group of negotiators does not do enough to address urban areas with slow Internet service.

It’s an issue that consumer groups describe as “digital redlining,” a term referring to the past practice of blocking Black people from buying homes in White neighborhoods.

Advocacy groups have accused broadband companies of not offering high-speed Internet in poorer areas with large numbers of minorities because the companies are less likely to recoup the costs of building fiber networks.

Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the top Republican on the Commerce Committee’s internet panel raised alarms that Democrats want to steer money away from rural areas with no broadband and use it to give faster service to urban areas that have Internet service, albeit with slow speeds.

He told reporters that Republicans will “make sure that resources are allocated to places that are really unserved and they want to try and change it.”

Commerce Committee Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, Washington Democrat, told Communications Daily that she and other Democrats want stronger anti-redlining language in the bill.

“They need to do more on affordability,” she said, adding that the bill as written by bipartisan negotiators puts too much focus “on rural issues.”

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