The House of Representatives passed an infrastructure bill, the Moving Forward Act (H.R. 2), yesterday that not only aims to fix roads, bridges, transit systems, impoverished schools, housing, but also comprises provisions to expand broadband access. It is the latest evidence that government understands that internet is just as important to rural towns, as highways and bridges.
The bill provides $80 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure to unserved and underserved communities. Of the $80 billion, $60 billion will be appropriated for a national competitive reverse auction to fund broadband deployment in unserved areas (areas with service below 25/25 Mbps) and areas with low-tier service (areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps).
The remaining $20 billion will be distributed among states by population for statewide competitive reverse auctions for broadband deployment to unserved areas and anchor institutions, like schools and libraries. Funded projects must be completed in four years. In states with no unserved or underserved areas, funding may be used for broadband deployment in areas with mid-tier service.
“The pandemic has demonstrated more clearly than ever that broadband is a key element of 21st century infrastructure,” WIA President and CEO Jonathan Adelstein said. “Reliable wireless connectivity is essential for everything from healthcare to education to curbside pick-up. WIA appreciates the House’s focus on broadband deployment and the inclusion of several important provisions to help bridge the digital divide in The Moving Forward Act. We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that all Americans have access to reliable wireless broadband and to building the well-trained workforce needed to construct and maintain our nation’s wireless infrastructure.”
The bill establishes a $5 billion grant program at the FCC for schools and libraries to fund connectivity for students and teachers in the digital classroom. The program may also be used to fund wired and wireless broadband connections at students’ homes and provide connected devices such as laptops and tablets for students and teachers. The program also supports mobile hotspot-lending by schools and libraries.
Jobs are mentioned 45 times in the 2,300-page infrastructure bill. The provisions to expand broadband access create millions of new jobs but also create and protect good jobs across the country, according to the Communications Workers of America.
CWA President Chris Shelton, said, “For working people, a reliable internet connection is not optional — it’s an absolute necessity. Thanks to Whip Clyburn (D-S.C.) and the Rural Broadband Task Force, the Moving Forward Act includes provisions that would support providing broadband access to millions of families and would ensure that workers doing that build out are able to exercise their rights.
“The Senate has already stalled on the Heroes Act, which would help in the short-term in keeping working families connected during the pandemic,” he added. “It’s past time for Leader Mitch McConnell (D-Ky) and the Senate to act on this key issue. If they don’t, we must hold them accountable–and make sure that the Moving Forward Act becomes the new baseline for expanding broadband access across the country.”
CWA also said the bill includes protections for workers’ rights and union organizing, preventing recipients of the deployment funding from interfering with labor organizing. In addition, funding recipients must pay their workers prevailing wages.