With references to construction of the transcontinental railroad during the Civil War and building the interstate highway system during the Cold War, President Joe Biden signed the $1 trillion infrastructure bill into law on Monday just after 4:20 p.m. Eastern. “As we learned during the pandemic, access to high-speed internet is essential,” said Biden of the measure, which includes $65 billion in government funds for broadband internet deployment.
“This law is going to make high-speed internet available everywhere,” he said during the signing ceremony at the White House, referencing rural and other parts of the country. “No parent should have to sit in a parking lot of a fast-food restaurant ever again so their child can use the internet to do homework,” Biden said. “That’s over, folks.”
Hours before Biden signed the infrastructure package into law, the White House announced a new task force to track how the program was implemented. The task force’s priorities include spending public funds “efficiently,” increasing the nation’s economic competitiveness and creating “good-paying” jobs for millions of Americans by coordinating with state and local governments, according to a White House statement.
The task force will be led by Brian Deese, the director of the National Economic Council, and Mitch Landrieu, the newly named infrastructure coordinator. Other members of the group include: Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Labor Secretary Martin Walsh and Office of Personnel Management Director Kiran Ahuja.
WIA President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein said in a statement after the signing ceremony he’s “thrilled” the broadband funding “explicitly heeds WIA’s call for technological flexibility which allows mobile and fixed wireless to compete for funding. And the bill prioritizes speed to deployment, as WIA suggested, so we can connect consumers more quickly that need broadband now, which wireless does best.”
Adelstein said he saw the benefits of flexibility firsthand during his time financing broadband projects as head of the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) in the Obama/Biden Administration. “The guidance then-Vice President Biden gave me stands today: ‘Give yourselves more freaking flexibility.’ This advice proved critical to the success of our program at RUS. By giving states flexibility to leverage all available technologies to close the digital divide, President Biden and Congress have the tools to get the job done.”
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief