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Two top priorities under the Trump administration —an infrastructure spending package and tax reform — are controversial topics that, if they move through a deeply divided Congress, stand to directly impact the wireless industry.

But a panel of administration officials and industry lobbyists said Wednesday that although the broad legislation could potentially split Congress, the provisions relating to telecommunications and broadband generally enjoy support from both parties.

Tim Donovan, the senior vice president of legislative affairs at the Competitive Carriers Association, said at the CCA's annual conference in Fort Worth that a top question in all corridors of Washington remains, "How do we make sure everyone in rural America is connected?"

Glenn Reynolds, the chief of staff at the Commerce Department's National Telecommunications and Information Administration, added that the White House considers broadband infrastructure to be a component of President Trump's call to repair roads, bridges, ports and other construction projects.

He noted that the lack of reliable broadband is a key factor in many of the issues facing rural America, and the panelists also said that the Mobility Fund Phase II received bipartisan support.

Donovan, however, said that determining which areas would qualify for the fund would be critical to ensure that lawmakers ultimately support it — adding that Congress members "know where the dead spots are" in their states.

Greg Orlando, a senior advisor at law firm BakerHostetler, said that reauthorization of the Federal Communications Commission is also at the forefront of telecom issues in Washington, particularly from those that have called for more transparency and responsiveness from the agency.

Reynolds, whose agency advises the president on telecom issues but does not issue regulations, said that the NTIA is also focused on cyber security, Internet of Things development, and spectrum use — including the FirstNet network dedicated to use by first responders.

Ross Lieberman of the American Cable Association said that in addition to Congress and the White House, changes are also underway at the FCC, where new Chairman Ajit Pai is beginning to assert his own policies after rolling back measures implemented during the previous administration.

Donovan said that although providers face many obstacles at the local level, the industry remains focused on Washington, where federal agencies can impede those decisions before they get to states or municipalities.

As carriers increasingly look to deploy small cells en route to 5G networks, Donovan said that he hopes new federal policies will give local administrators "a way to get to 'yes'" on those projects.

 

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