The House Committee on Energy and Commerce held a meeting on Monday to consider the Leading Infrastructure for Tomorrow’s America Act, or the LIFT America Act, which would provide billions of dollars in broadband funding.

The discussion lasted over five hours, with committee members hearing from former Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Tom Wheeler, former FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, former Secretary of the Department of Energy (DoE) Ernest J. Moniz, and former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden.

The legislation was introduced by all 32 Democratic members earlier this month and includes $80 billion for the deployment of secure, high-speed broadband nationwide; $15 billion in grants for the deployment and implementation of Next Generation 9-1-1 services; $5 billion for low-interest financing of broadband deployment; and $9.3 billion for broadband affordability and adoption.

“Today, we begin the process of rebuilding and revitalizing our economy by modernizing our nation’s infrastructure,” Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said during the hearing. “Over the last year we’ve seen how essential internet connectivity is, and this investment will lead to stronger small businesses and more jobs.”

However, Republican members of the committee felt the broadband investment was too much, with Ranking Member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., saying the bill “wastes billions without actually closing the digital divide.”

Former GOP FCC Commissioner O’Rielly also disagreed with the “extensive funding and out of touch definition of broadband, for instance, the push for symmetrical speeds at exorbitant levels.” O’Rielly suggested the broadband investment should be closer to $20 billion, as opposed to $80 billion.

O’Rielly also argued the goal of 100/100 Mbps speeds, or symmetrical upload and download speed, was far too high and instead pushed for a goal speed of 25/3 Mbps.

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Yet Wheeler disagreed, who wrote in his written testimony that the $80 billion “remains a fair estimate of the total amount required for the policies in the LIFT Act to be implemented.”

Additionally, Wheeler said a goal speed of 25/3 Mbps is “completely unacceptable” for broadband. “It is not adequate for today, and certainly is far from adequate for tomorrow,” he added. Instead, he said recent data suggests the average family of four today “requires a service of 108 Mbps downstream.”

“Thus far, we have repeatedly subsidized just good enough networks that were soon outdated. This bill focuses on subsidizing future-proof networks,” Wheeler said. “The bill focuses on unserved rural and tribal areas, breaking out of the trap of always having to hope for another round of subsidies, just to catch up.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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