An effort to fund an internet subsidy program just got thwarted again

Don’t hold your breath for a resurgence of government internet subsidies. Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to agree on a way forward to fund the program, and passing such bills will only get more difficult as Election Day inches closer.

Democrats and Republicans have introduced dueling bills to reauthorize the Federal Communications Commission’s spectrum auctions, where the agency doles out access to frequencies that can be used to carry wireless signals. But the Democratic bill that has been repeatedly delayed in committee specifically seeks to fund a now-defunct internet subsidy program, while the Republican version does not. While some Republicans supported earlier efforts to extend the subsidy program, those efforts did not go through in time to keep it from ending.

Cantwell blamed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, for standing in the way of the legislation. “We had a chance to secure affordable broadband for millions of Americans, but Senator Cruz said ‘no,’” Cantwell said in a statement late Monday. “He said ‘no’ to securing a lifeline for millions of Americans who rely on the Affordable Connectivity Program to speak to their doctors, do their homework, connect to their jobs, and stay in touch with loved ones — including more than one million Texas families.”

In remarks on the Senate floor on Tuesday, Cantwell said her Republican colleagues on the committee offered amendments to limit the ACP funding in the bill. She said the ACP shouldn’t be a partisan issue and stressed the wide range of Americans who’ve relied on the program for high-speed connections, including elderly people living on fixed incomes and many military families. “I hope my colleagues will stop with obstructing and get back to negotiating on important legislation that will deliver these national security priorities and help Americans continue to have access to something as essential as affordable broadband,” she said.

Cruz has his own spectrum legislation with Sen. John Thune (R-SD) that would reauthorize the FCC’s spectrum auction authority, with a focus on expanding commercial access to mid-band spectrum, commonly used for 5G. But it doesn’t have the same ACP funding mechanism. Some large telecom industry players prefer Cruz’s bill, in part because it allows for exclusive licensing. Wireless communications trade group CTIA’s SVP of government affairs, Kelly Cole, told Fierce Network that the Cruz bill “is a better approach because it follows the historical precedent set by prior bipartisan legislation to extend the FCC’s auction authority.” But other tech groups like the Internet Technology Industry Council (ITI), which represents companies including Amazon, Apple, Google, and Meta, support Cantwell’s bill, in part because of the programs it seeks to fund.

A spokesperson for Cruz did not immediately respond to The Verge’s request for comment, but in a statement published by Roll Call, he responded to criticism from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who accused Cruz of supporting corporate interests over working Americans’. “In his shameless blame-game, Leader Schumer accidentally revealed what he and his party really think about taxpayers — that they are dupes who should be forced to give free internet to illegal aliens, millions to antisemitic universities, and billions to mega-corporations with no strings attached,” Cruz said in the statement to Roll Call.

The back-and-forth doesn’t bode well for the prospect of reviving the ACP. And with the presidential election inching closer, any bipartisan action will become even more difficult in the months to come.

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