An Update on Broadband Bills in the 116th Congress

Benton Foundation

Friday, May 10, 2019

Weekly Digest

An Update on Broadband Bills in the 116th Congress

 You’re reading the Benton Foundation’s Weekly Digest, a recap of the biggest (or most overlooked) telecommunications stories of the week. The digest is delivered via e-mail each Friday.

Round-Up for the Week of May 6-10, 2019

Robbie McBeath

While some may be preoccupied with the Save the Internet Act (the net neutrality legislation), it’s not the only broadband bill in town. Here are a few more broadband-related bills to keep an eye on. 


On May 8, the U.S. House of Representatives passed by voice vote the Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Businesses Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand or ACCESS BROADBAND Act (H.R. 1328), sponsored by Reps Paul Tonko (D-NY) and Susan Brooks (R-IN).

H.R. 1328 establishes an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The proposed new office would hold regional workshops to share best practices and effective strategies for promoting broadband access and adoption. The bill would also require the office to consult with any agency offering federal broadband support to streamline the application process and, to the greatest extent practicable, create one application that can be universal across the government. The new office would be charged with coordinating broadband support provided by all the federal agencies that work on the issue, including the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS).

Rep. Tonko said of his legislation, "Federal resources supporting broadband expansion are poorly tracked with little coordination across agencies or departments. As a result, those resources are left out of reach for many of our local businesses and community leaders who need them."

Co-sponsor Susan Brooks said, “This bill is about bringing the benefits of broadband communications into the lives of our constituents.”

House Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) and Communications Subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D-PA) praised the legislation: This bipartisan bill will help connect communities without high-speed Internet access by pushing the federal government to get more bang for the buck when we invest in broadband Internet infrastructure.

Commerce Committee Republican Leader Greg Walden (R-OR) said:

The ACCESS BROADBAND Act is an important piece of the puzzle to help close the digital divide by coordinating federal broadband programs to ensure federal investments are targeted at unserved areas. Simplifying this process for small businesses and local communities will help bring broadband connectivity to underserved and rural areas across the country.

A companion bill (S. 1046) was introduced in the upper chamber and is co-sponsored by Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Doug Jones (D-AL), Ron Johnson (R-WI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Sen Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), and Gary Peters (D-MI). The bill awaits action in the Senate Commerce Committee, chaired by Sen Roger Wicker (R-MS).  Similar legislation passed in the House in the 115th Congress but was never taken up in the Senate.

The Digital Equity Act of 2019

On April 11, Senate Democrats, led by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), introduced the Digital Equity Act of 2019 (S. 1167). The bill would create new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”— a concept defined by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) as the “condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy.” 

S.1167 would establish two grant programs to be administered by NTIA to promote digital equity nationwide:

  • Building Capacity within States through Formula Grants: an annual $120 million formula grant program for all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico to fund the creation and implementation of comprehensive digital equity plans in each state;
  • Spurring Targeted Action through Competitive Grants: an annual $120 million competitive grant program to support digital equity projects undertaken by individual groups, coalitions, and/or communities of interest.

The legislation would also task NTIA with evaluating digital equity projects and providing policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels with detailed information about which projects are most effective

Senator Murray now has 15 co-sponsors for the Senate bill, all Democrats. A House version of the bill is expected to be introduced soon by Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA).

The bill was referred to the Senate Commerce Committee  

NDIA created a website to track the movement of the Digital Equity Act. It also has tools that allow a person to see how big the digital equity gap is in their state and Congressional District.

The Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act

On May 2, Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), co-chairs of the Senate Broadband Caucus, reintroduced the Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act (S. 1289). The bill is also co-sponsored by Sens. Dan Sullivan (R-AK), John Boozman (R-AR), Angus King (I-ME), and Catherine Cortez Mastro (D-NV).

As the senators note, the federal government does not produce current, reliable statistics on the economic impact of broadband on the U.S. economy. The Measuring the Economic Impact of Broadband Act would require the Secretary of Commerce, acting through the Director of the Bureau of Economic Analysis, to conduct a study of the effects of broadband deployment and adoption on the U.S. economy. 

The analysis would consider broadband deployment and adoption of digital-enabling infrastructure, e-commerce and platform-enabled peer-to-peer commerce, and the production and consumption of digital media. 

This legislation is endorsed by Connected Nation, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, WIA – The Wireless Infrastructure Association, ITTA – The Voice of America’s Broadband Providers and the Computer and Communications Industry Association (CCIA).

The bill awaits action in the Senate Commerce Committee.

The Internet Exchange (IX) Act

On April 11, Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced the Internet Exchange Act (S. 1166). The goal of the legislation is to spread Internet Exchanges to rural areas and make it easier for rural communities to connect to them. 

Internet Exchanges (IXs) are physical locations where networks come together – they allow subscribers of different internet service providers to communicate with one another. IXs also provide opportunities for content delivery networks (CDNs) and others to cache content closer to end-users, thus reducing latency and increasing network efficiency to improve the online experience for consumers, especially in rural areas. IX facilities also provide opportunities for data centers and cloud computing to be collocated at IX sites, thus increasing efficiency and boosting local economies. Currently, IXs are concentrated in big cities and in the coastal states. 

The bill has two primary sections:

  1. Authorizes matching grants to be administered by the NTIA to help establish new IX facilities where none exist, or to help an existing one expand if it is the only IX facility in a core based statistical area.
  2. Permits eligible schools, libraries and healthcare centers in the E-Rate and Rural Health Care programs to use such funds to contract with a broadband provider to obtain a connection to an IX facility, or to pay for the costs of maintaining a point of presence at an IX facility. 

Rep. Billy Long (R-MO) has introduced similar legislation, the Promoting Exchanges for Enhanced Routing of Information so Networks are Great Act or PEERING Act, in the House in 2018. The new Senate bill awaits action in the Senate Commerce Committee.


On April 15, Reps. Terri Sewell (D-AL) and Adrian Smith (R-NE) introduced the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act (H.R. 2147), legislation that would expand tax-exempt cooperative organizations’ access to government grants and assistance, including rural broadband grants and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) disaster relief. The RURAL Act would amend the Internal Revenue Code to ensure tax-exempt cooperative organizations do not lose their tax-exempt status when they apply for and use certain government grants, including rural broadband grants. 

H.R.2147 has a bipartisan mix of 18 co-sponsors. The bill awaits action in the House Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Richard Neal (D-MA). 

Quick Bits

Weekend Reads (resist tl;dr)

ICYMI from Benton

Fritz Hollings: An Appreciation, Michael Copps

Want Next Generation Precision Agriculture? You'll Need Rural Broadband., Robbie McBeath

Events Calendar for May 2019

May 13 -- Drafting the NIST Privacy Framework, NIST public workshop

May 14 -- Wi-Fi World Congress USA, Wi-Fi NOW

May 14-15: National Summit on Digital Equity & Economic Inclusion, National Collaborative for Digital Equity

May 15 -- Leveraging Public Assets to Accelerate Broadband Deployment, NTIA

May 15 -- Accountability and Oversight of the Federal Communications Commission, House Communications Subcommittee hearing

May 15 -- The Economic Benefits of Keeping the "E" in EBS, SHLB Coalition

May 22-24: Partnership for Progress on the Digital Divide 2019 International Conference

May 31 -- Deadline for Submission: Charles Benton Early Career Scholar Award

Benton, a non-profit, operating foundation, believes that communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides. Our goal is to bring open, affordable, high-capacity broadband to all people in the U.S. to ensure a thriving democracy.

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Kevin Taglang
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By Robbie McBeath.