Broadband Access Helps Economies and Higher Education

In the age of smart phones and Wi-Fi connections, it’s easy to take access to high speed internet for granted. Our phones buzz, we get the news, post photos, and talk to friends. It’s just another part of everyday life, but that isn’t the case for everyone. Millions of Americans are currently without access to high speed internet – defined to be a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second. Mostly in rural America, an inability to access the internet has profound negative effects on communities, both economically and educationally.

In Florida alone, at least 30 private colleges and universities currently offer more than 592 degrees and certificates through online courses. The University of Phoenix has become an online degree behemoth, and higher education continues to become more ubiquitous with an internet connection. Community access to high speed internet is correlated with higher income levels, more college degrees, and more job growth among residents.

This is an infrastructure issue; to be able to connect to the web, the proper broadband infrastructure needs to be in the area. A concerted effort to expand broadband infrastructure to rural communities, where in some places 99 percent of residents do not have broadband access, is an important step to improve the quality of life, and economic standing, of our rural communities.

We have written recently about Microsoft’s push to bring broadband access to every American, and the GAIN coalition hopes to see other companies follow their lead. A company with access to high speed internet will better be able to promote and grow their business. A young individual who can get online will be able to enroll in higher education programs and work toward a successful future. We hope to see every American gain broadband access soon, and are excited for the great effects that will have on our country.

Much Needed Streamlined Infrastructure Approval Process on the Horizon

As it stands today, receiving approval to move forward with an infrastructure project is a long, arduous process. Our waterways and roads, bridges and highways continue to sit in limbo needing improvements and repairs as permits wait to be approved. It’s not uncommon for infrastructure projects to be forced to wait years and years, often stretching into decades, before this can begin. Streamlining this process and shepherding projects towards approval and progress has long been a necessity to fix American infrastructure. Thankfully, action has been taken to do exactly that.

Yesterday, President Trump announced that had signed an executive order with the explicit intention of streamlining permitting processes for infrastructure projects. The new goal, as laid out in the executive order, is to complete the approval process within 2 years of application. This is a tremendous step towards promoting the growth of our infrastructure, and helping to improve the lives of the American people.

Ensuring that projects do not sit dormant and are not required to wait decades before they can begin is a vital step forward in improving our nation’s infrastructure. Moving forward with infrastructure projects – creating roads and bridges, expanding and repairing our tremendous highway system – will have profound effects on the country. Thousands of jobs will be created, employing hard working men and women while bringing money into local communities.

Grand Canyon Water Line in Need of Repair

When the Grand Canyon Park opened in 1919, it started out attracting around 35,000 visitors. Today, more than 6 million people travel to the Canyon each year to witness the majesty of one of America’s most important sites. The Grand Canyon is synonymous with American beauty and wonder, yet infrastructure that is vitally important to the park has been in need of comprehensive repair for years. Since 2010, a water pipeline that supplies residents, resorts, and the millions of annual visitors has broken 80 times. The U.S. National Park Service (NPS) is calling for a fix that would help preserve the system for decades to come.

In the past, breaks to the water pipeline have been sutured, allowing use to continue without having to fully renovate and repair. This is no longer enough, according to a Grand Canyon spokesperson, who noted that a comprehensive repair of this infrastructure is necessary. The plan would include a new water intake system, new water treatment facilities, and the use of smaller pipe where possible. The temporary fixes that have been used in the past are no longer sufficient to ensure that water can be safely transported where it needs to go, and the decades old water pipeline is due for a top down overhaul.

With more than 6 million visitors coming to the Grand Canyon each year, it is vitally important that guests have access to an efficient and safe water supply. Not only is this important for restrooms and water fountains, but also for the year-round residents and resorts that operate in the area bringing much needed tourism dollars. An overhaul of the system would cost $124 million for a longer term solution – a small price to pay compared to the current annual amount spent operating and patching repairs.

This is just one example of the many important infrastructure projects that need long term solutions. For decades now we have pushed these issues off until tomorrow, choosing to tackle them in the future instead of today. The importance of infrastructure cannot be overstated, and projects like the Grand Canyon Pipeline, which brings water to residents and guests alike, can act as examples for what needs to be done. The GAIN coalition would like to see this project, and many others like it, move forward, improving the lives of the 6 million visitors to the Grand Canyon, and those Americans who live next door.

Pipeline Violence Causes Nothing But Harm

Recently, two women in Iowa publicly admitted to a months long campaign of violent action intended to slow down, or halt completely, progress of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL). Over the course of 8 months, these two women engaged in arson that destroyed heavy machinery, used oxyacetylene torches to cut through pipe, and claimed to use gas-soaked rags and burning tires to destroy electrical units and construction equipment. These violent attacks delayed construction for weeks, and are symptomatic of a much larger issue with violent attacks on our pipeline infrastructure.

The attacks on DAPL by the two Iowa women caused upwards of $2.5 million in damages, requiring weeks of repairs and entire sections of pipe to be replaced. On top of these damages, the two women came forward on their own, turning themselves in because they hoped to inspire others to commit similar acts of violent vandalism. This instance of ecoterrorism is emblematic of a larger, national problem of violence directed at pipelines, with projects all across the United States being targeted and attacked.

A number of different methods of these violent protests have been employed, with the most serious coming several months ago when a man used a high-powered rifle to damage the Sabal Trail Pipeline. While there were mixed reactions, a number of anti-pipeline groups treated him as a martyr. Protesters have also lodged themselves in pipelines, using numerous materials to prevent authorities from removing them. In many instances, this has damaged the interior lining of pipelines, forcing costly replacements for whole segments of pipe.

With vandalism, sabotage, and arson as a part of their playbook, pipeline vandals are putting themselves in danger, causing millions of dollars in damages to important infrastructure projects, and harming the American people. Pipelines help to move important natural resources across the country, benefiting economies and helping to lower energy costs – on top of putting America in a greater position on the international stage. The violent attacks cause nothing but harm, often damaging local environments. The GAIN coalition hopes to see such action stop, and that a genuine discourse is begun on how best to improve our energy infrastructure.

Delta to Invest $4 Billion in LaGuardia Terminal

Delta Airlines announced at the end of July that they would be helping to fund the redevelopment of an important piece of American infrastructure. To help renovate their terminal at LaGuardia Airport, in New York City, Delta will provide $4 billion in funding and financing to go along with another $600 million coming from the city. Public-private partnerships like this are of paramount importance as we continue to rebuild and improve American infrastructure.

This isn’t the only infrastructure project currently underway at LaGuardia airport. Along with Delta’s $4 billion redevelopment, another public-private partnership is bringing the necessary funding to renovate the main terminal as well. Another $4 billion dollars is coming to help revitalize one of the most used airports in the country, demonstrating the importance of private investment in public infrastructure.

These investments are the cornerstone of President Trump’s $1 trillion plan, and provide a vital source of funding for infrastructure projects across the country. These investments have helped to bring important transit lines, bridge repairs, and often significantly improve public life. As major infrastructure bills move through Washington and state capitals, these P3 investments bring an alternative source that create jobs, boosts local economies, and helps to improve overall quality of life.

Not only do these projects benefit those who use infrastructure, but they’re also incredibly beneficial to the businesses themselves. Delta’s project at LaGuardia will renovate their terminal, creating a state of the art airport experience and benefiting them greatly. This is but one example of how a public-private partnership can help to make a businesses more successful through an infrastructure investment, and the GAIN coalition is hopeful that many other companies will follow Delta’s lead. P3 investments are a great way to move infrastructure projects forward, and we hope to see more of them in the near future.

Microsoft to Bring Broadband to 2 Million Americans

High speed internet has quickly become ubiquitous with everyday life, right at our fingertips whenever we might need it. It’s estimated that 300 million Americans have access to broadband internet, letting them connect to other people around the world in the blink of an eye. This is being viewed more and more as a necessity of life, comparable to water and electricity. Yet there is a large segment of our population who do not have access to the internet in the same ways, and they are feeling the effects of it.

The FCC recently estimated that 34 million Americans currently do not have access to broadband internet, with 24 million of those Americans living in rural communities. This has significant detrimental effects on local economies, making it difficult to attract businesses and sustain growth. Thankfully, help is on the way.

Microsoft announced in July that they would be partnering with telecommunications companies to bring broadband access to 2 million Americans. Through a mixture of a number of different technologies, Microsoft wants to provide access to this all-important resource and allow our rural communities to begin to grow and prosper economically.

While Microsoft’s “Rural Airband Initiative” will target 2 million people at first, the hope is to expand and bring broadband to 23 million more, and then the rest of the country. This is an important milestone in American infrastructure development. The need for strong digital infrastructure will likely never go away, and bringing high speed internet to everyone will have profound effects on businesses and local economies. The GAIN coalition is hopeful that this will be Microsoft leading by example, and that we’re seeing the first steps in a comprehensive effort to fund infrastructure projects and bring high speed, broadband internet to our rural communities.

Senate Confirms Two FERC Nominees

Last night, before the Senate broke for their August recess, two of President Trump’s nominees to FERC were confirmed. This is great news for FERC, as the now two soon-to-be commissioners – Ron Powelson and Neil Chatterjee – can help move the agency forward and work through the buildup of pending projects and start to get necessary and beneficial infrastructure projects underway as soon as possible. Hearings are scheduled for the President’s next two nominees in September.

“In order to proceed with much of this you have to have the FERC actually operating: Working to review the permits; working through the ratemaking cases,” said Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). “It is substantive work. It is challenging work. It is work that has now been stopped up for months and months. So, knowing that FERC will be able to commence its operations again with a quorum is really good news today.”

The return to FERC having a quorum will have widespread, positive effects that will be felt across the country. Projects that will employ thousands of hard working Americans, bring in millions in tax dollars, and boost local economies can finally move forward. This is a tremendous step in the progression of American infrastructure, and the GAIN coalition is very happy to see Powelson and Chatterjee’s confirmations.

Funding For Bridges Has Increased, Still Not Enough

The current state of America’s infrastructure is not a recent phenomenon, it’s an issue that has grown through decades of procrastination and delay. Just ten years ago, the Interstate 35W bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown Minneapolis collapsed, crashing into the river below it with cars, trucks, and even a school bus filled with people. The collapse spurred the public to call for widespread infrastructure investments targeting similarly aging bridges. They wanted to prevent another collapse like this from ever happening again, yet 10 years later little has been done at all.

The American Road and Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) recently released a report detailing trends in investment in bridgework, finding that despite public acknowledgment of infrastructure failures, there has been little change in how we spend money on infrastructure. The ARTBA found that investment in bridge construction had increased just 8%, from $54.6 billion in 2007 to $59.2 billion in 2016. This is an incremental increase, and not nearly enough to meet the growing need for large investments in infrastructure.

Thankfully, lawmakers in Washington have demonstrated strong support in recent months for widespread investment in America’s infrastructure. President Trump has touted his $1 trillion plan to revitalize and repair American infrastructure. The President wants to invest federal funds that would incentivize further investment and truly help us to avoid incidents like that in Minneapolis a decade ago. Lawmakers in Washington should recognize the importance of infrastructure investment, and move to quickly help rejuvenate our long neglected roads and bridges.

It’s promising to see such widespread support for investing and helping our infrastructure, both from public officials and the public at large. Yet despite years of calls for more focused attention on American roads and bridges, we still have not gone far enough. While our crumbling infrastructure is currently at the fore of American discourse, it’s time to bring improving our infrastructure to the top of our list of priorities. The GAIN coalition is hopeful that Washington will soon move to encourage more investments in infrastructure, thus  improving the lives and security of all Americans.

American Energy Exports At All-Time High

As domestic production of energy resources continues to grow and grow in the United States, a corner has been turned in regard to our position on the international stage. In a relatively short amount of time, thanks to our energy revolution and new technologies, the United States has become one of the global leaders in net energy exports. This has led to stronger energy security, and has helped American allies around the globe.

Since the natural gas revolution began in 2010, US refineries have been able to produce more fuel than ever before, and the numbers continue to grow. This increase in production isn’t to meet domestic demands, but rather to satisfy the rising calls from abroad. Not only does America’s increased fuel production help to boost local economies and create thousands of jobs, it also greatly improves energy security, both our own and that of our allies.

The continued increase of American refineries’ production of fuels allows the US to take a larger role on the international energy stage. Becoming one of the world leaders in fuel exports creates greater security for our country, eliminating the potential for any sort of repeat of the 1973 Oil Crisis, and allowing us to help our allies abroad. Increasing American natural gas imports in European countries lessens the hold that Russian natural gas has in the region.

Increased natural gas production will also require an infrastructure system that will be able to bear the new loads. As it stands, the record highs in production of American fuel are beyond the scope of our current system, warranting immediate attention for improvement and expansion. Leading the world in energy exports is exciting, and the GAIN coalition is hopeful that lawmakers across the country will recognize the importance of an infrastructure system that can keep up with increasing production levels.

Public Private Partnerships Key to Improving Infrastructure

It’s plain to see, across the country, that our nation’s infrastructure is in need of improvements. The need for present and quick attention is unambiguous, and there is widespread public support for action to repair our country’s roads and bridges. Support from citizens and lawmakers alike appears every day in the news, with President Trump calling for a $1 trillion infrastructure bill that has found bipartisan support. While broad support for infrastructure is apparent, progress has been slow in bringing investments to fruition. While public investments move forward slowly, private money can be a part of the solution to our infrastructure problem.

Public private partnerships, or P3s, can provide the necessary revitalization of America’s infrastructure. While roads and bridges falter, and waterways and dams age, hundreds of billions of dollars sit idle, waiting for the right opportunity. Infrastructure is that opportunity, providing a safe place for investors to find capital increases and good yields. Not only this, but P3s help to create jobs and improve the quality of life in communities, through improved infrastructure and boosted local economies.

The structure used in P3s offers a great framework for every step of the infrastructure project – from conception to maintenance once a project is complete. But several states have yet to pass legislature authorizing the use of P3s, hindering their ability to move forward on major infrastructure projects. Government action needs to be taken to ensure that every option is available for improving American infrastructure, and that includes allowing public private partnerships to fund major infrastructure projects.

While the recent progress around infrastructure has been very encouraging in Washington, public money cannot be the only solution to our infrastructure problem. Encouraging public private partnerships across the country will help to revitalize our failing infrastructure quickly, and ensuring that these options are available nationwide will allow every state to move forward quickly with infrastructure improvements. The GAIN coalition is glad to see so many options for infrastructure improvement, and we’re glad to see the conversation getting so serious. At this rate, we hope to see American infrastructure turn the corner soon, and become the envy of the world once again.