Coronavirus and Connectivity
Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Mike Braun (R-IN), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act, bipartisan legislation that will bolster efforts to expand access to rural broadband nationwide and speed up the distribution of the Federal Communication Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF). The RDOF will allocate $20.4 billion to building rural broadband in two phases and this legislation will ensure that some of that money is distributed to communities much faster than the original deadline.
Access to the internet is a basic human right, the United Nations declared in 2016. But, as the Covid-19 crisis has highlighted, it is a right that is still denied to billions of people at a time when connectivity has never been more important. For professional classes in rich countries with good internet access and the ability to work from home, the crisis has been made infinitely easier thanks to Zoom video calls and Amazon deliveries. It has been a far more precarious existence for those who have manual jobs and children at home with no internet access.
The COVID-19 outbreak has magnified troubles many rural areas face without high-speed broadband. With more than $6.6 million in federal CARES Act relief funds allocated to Somerset County, officials said they plan to use half of the total toward their broadband initiative, which has been a top goal for years. President Commissioner Gerald Walker said extending high-speed coverage to 85% of the county is expected to cost more than $8 million. Board members said their $3.5 million would go a long way toward that.
House passes $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, but Senate Majority Leader McConnell calls it ‘pointless political theater’
The House on Wednesday passed a $1.5 trillion infrastructure bill, the Moving Forward Act, that would sharply increase spending on roads and transit, push for deep reductions in pollution, direct billions to water projects, affordable housing, broadband and schools, and upgrade hospitals and US Postal Service trucks. The bill pours more than $300 billion into repairing bridges and roads, $130 billion into schools that educate low-income children, more than $100 billion into building or preserving affordable housing and $100 billion into expanding broadband internet access.
Senate Democrats are attempting to add their distance learning E-Rate funding bill to the must-pass National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). Sens. Ed Markey (D-MA), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) have proposed their Emergency Educational Connections Act as an amendment on the bill. The bill would ensure that all K-12 students have access to "adequate" home broadband connectivity and devices during the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill would clarify that E-rate could be used for equipment and service at "locations other than the school."
Sen Klobuchar Introduces Comprehensive Broadband Infrastructure Legislation to Expand Access to Affordable High-Speed Internet
Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will invest $100 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide and connect Americans to ensure they have increased access to education, health care, and business opportunities.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai sent a letter to Sen. Tom Udall (D-CO) on June 22, 2020, to respond to the senator's letter asking the FCC to prioritize relief for low-income citizens by increasing Lifeline support. Chairman Pai said the FCC waived certain Lifeline program rules and allowed Lifeline applicants on rural tribal lands to begin receiving Lifeline benefits while their application was in the process of being verified.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai sent letters to 16 members of Congress on June 22, 2020, to respond to their letter asking the FCC for information on how it will select applicants for the COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Pai said the FCC consulted with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to identify the hardest-hit areas and the FCC has taken steps to ensure health care providers have the necessary information to participate.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai sent letters to Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), and Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) on June 23, 2020, to respond to their letter urging the FCC to take steps to make more rural health care funding available to providers during the pandemic. Chairman Pai said the FCC extended the RHC program window until June 30, 2020, eased competitive bidding requirements for providers with expired evergreen contracts, and extended a number of filing deadlines.