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Doyle says Biden's infrastructure plan will make broadband more accessible and equitable

Lucy Perkins
90.5 WESA

U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle of Pittsburgh says President Joe Biden’s infrastructure plan will make broadband access and upgrades to existing lines more equitable and that his work in Congress has helped lay the groundwork for those changes.

“The idea here is to make sure every American has access to not only reliable broadband but robust broadband,” said Doyle, who has overseen internet-related issues for years in a House subcommittee. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment.”

Nearly 14.5 million Americans still don’t have access to the internet, according to the most recent estimates from the Federal Communications Commission. To remedy that, Doyle says the majority of the funding — $42.5 billion — will go to expanding access where broadband is currently unavailable.

People living in rural areas are the most likely to not have internet access, so those expansion efforts won’t be seen in urban areas like Pittsburgh but will likely impact other counties in the region.

According to maps created by a Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission initiative called Southwestern Pennsylvania Connected, roughly 7,600 households and businesses in Indiana County, 7,100 in Fayette County and 5,700 in Washington County have no internet access.

But Doyle said other provisions will benefit people in Pittsburgh, such as requiring upgrades by internet service providers to be done equitably.

“It requires the FCC to adopt rules that will prevent redlining service, based on income or race or religion, so that people have equal access to broadband,” he said. “In the past, sometimes as new fiber was being deployed, they deployed it to the wealthier areas, and some of the poorer areas in communities didn’t get access to the fiber. And we want to make sure that that can’t happen anymore.”

Doyle says every state will get a minimum of $100 million, and that funding will be available through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). Funding will also be spent on helping low-income Americans afford internet access through subsidies.

A separate provision in the spending package will require internet service providers to be more transparent about what consumers pay for.

“We have what’s called the consumer broadband nutrition label,” he said. “It requires the providers to give consumers clear, transparent information on the total pricing and any other usage rule….so they understand what they’re being charged for and how it’s being charged.”

Doyle oversees a lot of internet-related issues as chair of the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

He says a key to the successful rollout of the $65 billion in upgrades to the country’s broadband network will come from accurate data that show where there are disparities in access, something he has worked on for years in his committee.

“We’ve actually been working on this for a while because we discovered that the current maps were horrible….they were not very accurate,” he said. “We knew that we needed to have good maps to make sure that the money was being spent efficiently.”

That problem was addressed in the Broadband DATA Act which President Trump signed in 2020.

New data, Doyle said, will become available early next year, and he expects the rollout to happen slowly in 2022 -- Doyle’s last year in office.

The longtime Democratic Congressman announced his retirement this fall after nearly 25 years representing the Pittsburgh region, He said it’s rewarding to see this kind of investment, despite it being lower than the initial $100 billion President Biden initially proposed.

“It’s still a very big number and we’re going to be able to do a lot with it,” Doyle said. “I’m very excited about it. As someone that’s worked in this area for you know, most of my career in the House, this is the culmination of a lot of effort and push to get this done. Persistence is the key, and we’re kind of persistent folks here in western Pennsylvania.”