President Donald Trump revealed this week his administration's’ 10-year plan to invest in American infrastructure. The plan, which includes a proposed $1.5 trillion in new investments, has no dedicated funding designated for improving and expanding internet access.

The White House’s outline for infrastructure instead includes broadband as one area of investment that is eligible for funding through a program that provides investment for rural infrastructure projects.

Broadband Internet Trump infrastructure plan provides no guarantees for broadband expansion. Photo: Tmthetom/Wikimedia Commons

Broadband is one of five categories of eligible projects under the Rural Infrastructure Program, which will set aside $50 billion for each state to invest as they see fit. Broadband would compete with other infrastructure projects for the funding, including transportation, water and waste, power and electric and water resources.

According to the recently published plan, 80 percent of the $50 billion would be provided to the governor of each state, with the governor given discretion over how they would like to spend that portion of the funding. The other 20 percent would pay for grants that could be used for any of the approved project categories, including broadband.

Broadband programs are also eligible—though not guaranteed—to receive funding through a proposed Transformative Projects Program, which sets apart an additional $20 billion for projects including internet, transportation, clean water, drinking water, energy and commercial space.

Under the Trump plan, broadband facilities in rural areas—including small cell and Wi-Fi attachments that are used to avoid environmental reviews required for large towers—would also be eligible to receive funding through Private Activity Bonds, which allow private projects to be pursued while benefiting from “the lower financing costs of tax-exempt municipal bonds."

While the Trump plan does make it possible for states and municipalities to invest in broadband infrastructure, it falls short of actually guaranteeing those expansions will be made. It also can be seen as a step back from previous decisions that made it appear as though the Trump White House was interested in expanding high speed internet.

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that was intended to help private corporations expand their broadband internet infrastructure to rural regions of the country, where access has lagged. The order was designed to make it easier for the private sector to locate broadband infrastructure on federal lands.

Providing broadband access to rural regions has long been a challenge, as there is a high cost associated with building out the necessary infrastructure and a small, low-density population that would be served by the access. It presents a financial challenge for the handful of large corporations that currently provide broadband services in the U.S.

According to the U.S. Federal Communications Commission, broadband is defined as having download speeds of download speeds of at least 25Mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of at least 3Mbps.

According to the findings of a 2016 report published by the FCC , 47.5 million connections in the U.S. fall below the threshold—including 22.4 million people getting download speeds of under 10Mbps and 5.8 million getting just 3Mbps.

While President Trump’s executive order and new infrastructure plan opens up the potential to improve access to high-speed internet in rural areas, the president has also undergone efforts to stifle broadband expansion.

A budget proposed last year by his administration called for the elimination of 19 independent agencies including the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), which has dedicated significant resources to expanding broadband infrastructure in Appalachia. According to the FCC’s researcher, much of Appalachia—including large chunks of West Virginia, Alabama and South Carolina—are without access to high speed internet.

The impact of delivering those high speed connections to rural communities can be very beneficial. According to ARC’s broadband investment plan released in 2016, 80 new jobs are created for every additional 1,000 broadband users served, and that a gain of 4Mbps of internet speed can increase household income by $2,100 a year.