As Congressional negotiations about details related to the $65 billion broadband infrastructure spending measure move toward conclusion, six organizations that advocate for consumers, rural communities and competition have urged Congress to take what they called bold action.
“Better, faster broadband for all is a national priority for students, families, and small businesses across America’s rural communities and urban neighborhoods,” A joint statement from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the Fiber Broadband Association, Incompas, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and the Public Knowledge interest group reads.
“As Congress continues its negotiations for an infrastructure plan,” the statement reads, “we stand together to call for funding that will enable every American to access 21st-century broadband infrastructure. Those communities without wired 25/3 Mbps should be prioritized, with additional areas that are unserved at successively higher speeds included as funding permits.”
The statement from the six organizations said that, as entities receive funds to deploy broadband, Congress should require they build networks that will be scalable over time to meet the online needs of their communities. These future-proofed networks will support public safety, small business growth, education and telemedicine needs while enabling precision agriculture, powering 5G technology, and allowing for real-time, two-way communications by many users at the same location, the statement reads. According to the six organizations, the minimum speed for eligible projects to receive funds should be 100/100 Mbps.
“Other nations, including China, the European Union and the United Kingdom, have all set goals of deploying gigabit broadband by 2025, and the United States cannot afford to fall behind on deploying networks that are fast enough to support the education needs of today and the jobs of the future,” the statement reads. “Adopting these goals will ensure that Congress is funding broadband infrastructure that will meet the future needs of our nation.”
U.S. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) today led a bipartisan group of senators in introducing legislation known as the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act of 2021. The bill sets aside 10 percent of the net proceeds from spectrum auctions to be deposited into an FCC-administered Rural Broadband Assessment and Deployment Fund, to be used for building broadband networks.
Sen. Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) joined Thune in introducing the legislation.
Under terms of the Act, the FCC must use the fund to establish one or more programs to address gaps in broadband internet access service coverage in high-cost rural areas. The federal agency also would be required to address insufficient funding of other programs that could adversely affect the sustainability of broadband services or comparability of rates supported by such programs. Further, the FCC must establish transparency and accountability requirements for addressing such coverage gaps and funding shortfalls, and it must report annually on the distribution of amounts from the fund.
NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, has its headquarters which is based in Thune’s home state. NATE’s president and CEO, Todd Schlekeway, said that NATE thanks the senators for their leadership in introducing the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act in the 117th Congress.
“NATE member companies are on the front lines of deployment, working on a daily basis to close the digital divide,” Schlekeway said. “The Association is proud to endorse this legislation that will ultimately provide an infusion of funds from proceeds generated from congressionally mandated spectrum auctions to promote broadband deployment services and communications infrastructure expansion.”
Christina Mason, vice president of government affairs for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), said that the legislation puts forward a solid, common-sense and flexible solution toward eradicating the rural divide.
“We are encouraged by the bill’s focus on connecting rural communities to infrastructure capable of delivering reliable high-speed broadband, which COVID has shown to be more important than ever before,” Mason said. “Internet access helped America weather the storm, and WISPA’s 700-plus internet service provider members have proudly worked overtime to keep millions of Americans in the most remote areas of this nation connected during very difficult times. We believe no one should be left to compete in a 21st-century economy without access to broadband.”
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, said that existing programs like the FCC’s Universal Service Fund (USF) play a critical role in helping providers deploy and sustain high-speed broadband in rural areas. It follows, she said, that NTCA endorses the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act because it is intended to to enable new initiatives and make use of existing programs to support the buildout and operation of broadband networks.
“If the last 15 months have shown us anything, it is that broadband connectivity is essential for daily life,” Bloomfield said. “When the COVID-19 pandemic forced so much of our lives to move online, NTCA’s community-based providers went above and beyond to keep rural Americans connected. But we have more work to do, and the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act would provide significant resources and powerful tools to help with the dual objectives of deploying advanced networks and sustaining high-quality affordable services across rural America.”
Don Bishop is executive editor and associate publisher of AGL Magazine.