An infrastructure deal reached today by the White House and a bipartisan group of senators features a potentially huge Federal funding bump for cybersecurity as part of a larger “resiliency” section of the agreement, although details of the scope of the cybersecurity portion remain murky until further information about the plan becomes public.
The broadest tech-related strokes of the $1.2 trillion infrastructure spending agreement – reached after several weeks of haggling between White House and Senate negotiators – including $73 billion of funding for improved power infrastructure, $65 billion to fund better broadband services across the United States, and $47 billion for “resiliency” investments to protect infrastructure.
A White House fact sheet describing the agreement says that the resiliency-related funding would aim to “prepare more of our infrastructure for the impacts of climate change, cyberattacks, and extreme weather events.”
It also says the agreement would represent “the largest investment in the resilience of physical and natural systems in American history.”
The deal announced today by President Biden represents an agreement between the White House and a group of ten senators – five Republicans and five Democrats. To become law, that agreement still needs to be translated into legislation and then approved by both the House and Senate.
“It is incredibly important that the Senate negotiators and the President agree that our infrastructure upgrades need to be resilient to all potential harms – especially to malicious cyber threats,” Matthew Cornelius, executive director at the Alliance for Digital Innovation, told MeriTalk today.
“However, resilience can’t just be a line item and funding amount in the overall package,” he said. “Funding to secure all aspects of our national and critical infrastructure should be spelled out in each portion of the bill and any additional funds (i.e. the $47 billion for Resilience in the released Fact Sheet) needs to have specific language that directs all parties involved in these infrastructure enhancements to ensure those projects have cybersecurity improvements baked in from the start,” he said.
“This is a big move towards being able to compete internationally in the 21st-century,” President Biden said today at a White House briefing.
“We have to move, and we have to move fast,” he said. “This agreement signals to the world that we can function deliver and do significant things. These investments represent the kind of national effort that throughout our history has literally, not figuratively literally transformed America and propelled us into the future.”
After many weeks of back-and-forth negotiations, the agreement announced today comes in at $1.2 trillion.
That figure includes $579 billion in total new spending, which – while a substantial increase from a prior proposal from Sen. Shelley Capito-Moore tagged at $928 billion with $257 billion in new spending – is still a substantial decrease from the original $2 trillion price tag on Biden’s American Jobs Plan.
After earlier infrastructure talks stalled due to disagreements over ways to fund the plan, the agreement announced today proposes funding the plan using a variety of sources including unused COVID-19 relief funds, increased IRS tax collections, 5G spectrum auction proceeds, and allowing states to buy and sell unused toll credits, according to the White House.
Power Grid Fixes
A significant portion of the infrastructure agreement tackles upgrades to the power grid, which the Government Accountability Office has said is vulnerable to cyberattacks.
The agreement’s $73 billion of proposed grid spending includes the creation of a new Grid Authority, in addition to expanding access to renewable energy by creating “thousands of miles of new, resilient transmission lines,” the White House said.
“This bill makes key investments to put people to work all across the country building transmission lines, upgrading the power grid, to be … more energy-efficient and extreme weather, to be able to sustain society rather and the climate crisis,” President Biden said.
The White House said terms of the agreement will “connect every American to reliable high-speed internet,” and compared the proposed $65 billion investment in broadband infrastructure to the government’s push in the last century to connect every American to electricity.
The administration expects the new investment to drive down broadband prices and thus help close the digital divide. The investment detailed in today’s agreement falls $35 billion short of Biden’s originally-targeted $100 billion for broadband.
Earlier this week, a witness testifying before Congress said that while an infrastructure bill would be a great start on closing the digital divide, that alone would not solve the problem of scarce or inferior broadband in underserved and unserved communities.
During a June 22 Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband hearing on how the Federal government can help support building and maintaining broadband infrastructure, Denny Law, CEO of Golden West Telecommunication, cautioned against the belief that an infrastructure bill would be a one-time fix-all.
“I think certainly an infrastructure patch would be a great start in terms of continued to expand and deploy broadband into rural and underserved areas,” Law said.
“I think that’s only one act, though. … You also have to consider as part of that the sustainability of that network going forward. It’s one thing to build it; anybody with enough money can build a network. However, I have learned it is more challenging to actually operate a network over a long period of time, and you can spend a lot of money doing that.”