Biden budget seeks over $600M to boost broadband

U.S. President Joe Biden unveiled a proposed budget for the government’s fiscal year 2023 which contains more than $600 million in additional funding for broadband, money meant to help achieve the administration’s goal of connecting every citizen.

The budget requests $28.5 billion in funding for the Department of Agriculture (USDA). This figure includes $600 million for the agency’s ReConnect program, which offers loans and grants to help operators cover underserved parts of the country. The budget total also includes another $25 million for the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS) program “to help rural telecommunications cooperatives refinance” their debt and upgrade their facilities. The ReConnect program is run by the RUS.

If passed, the budget would build on the $2 billion recently allocated to the RUS in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) in November 2021. Earlier this month, the ReConnect program closed the application window for its third funding round, which is set to dole out $1.15 billion in support. According to its website, ReConnect has distributed a total of $1.5 billion to date via its first two funding rounds.

Biden’s budget contains several other telecom-related expenditures, though these are less definitively focused directly on broadband deployments than the allocation for the USDA. For instance, an allocation for the Department of State includes $350 million “to expand reliable and affordable internet access through the development and deployment of secure digital and technological infrastructure.”

It also requests $11.7 billion for the Department of Commerce to “complement major investments in broadband Internet access and climate resilience” made by the IIJA. This includes $13 million for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to conduct research and engineering of “cutting-edge advanced communications” systems.

And finally, the budget seeks $880 million for the National Science Foundation’s Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships to speed development of technology in key areas, including “advanced communications.”

However, Biden’s budget proposal is just that: a proposal. Congress will spend the coming months hashing out the details of its own spending priorities, which will likely differ significantly from the president’s.

President Biden’s full budget proposal can be found here.