Congressional Broadband Actions

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In recent weeks there has been a good deal of activity in the U.S. House and Senate relative to broadband availability and affordability in rural America. The following provides a brief summary of recent Congressional actions:

U.S. House of Representatives

*  On May 10, 2024, the House Energy and Commerce Committee in conjunction with the Communications and Technology Subcommittee held a field hearing in Bakersfield, California to assess the State of Rural Broadband in America. Citing the importance of fast, reliable, and affordable internet service relative to education, healthcare and cutting-edge technology, the hearing sought comment from community leaders about securing connectivity in rural America and closing the digital divide.

U.S. Senate

* On 4/26/24, Senator Maria Cantwell released the Spectrum and National Security Act. The legislation includes the provision of $7B for the ACP, $200M to assist non-profits in the preparation of funding applications for federal broadband grant programs, $3B for the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program, and $2B for Next Generation 911.

* On May 1, 2024, Senator John Fetterman (D-Penn) introduced the Promoting Affordable Connectivity Act. This bill would remove the Affordable Connectivity Plan (ACP) from the appropriations process and incorporate funding for the ACP into the Universal Service Fund process.

* On May 2, 2024, the Senate Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband held a hearing on the Future of Broadband Availability. The hearing was to examine the state of broadband affordability programs including the USF (incl. Lifeline and High Cost programs), ACP, and the BEAD program. In addition, the hearing was to examine the impact of the end of the ACP and ways to address existing shortfalls in broadband affordability programs.

* On May 8, 2024, a bi-partisan coalition of U.S. Senators introduced an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act of 2023 to strengthen the Affordable Connectivity Program and the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program. The amendment would provide an additional $6B for the ACP and $3B for the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program. On May 9, 2024, the Senate passed the Federal Aviation Reauthorization Act of 2023 without the aforementioned amendment.

* The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation will hold a full committee executive session on May 16, 2024, to consider 13 Bills. Included for discussion will be the Rural Broadband Protection Act which would require the FCC to establish a vetting process for future applicants for certain high-cost universal service funding. In addition, the Committee will also consider the Spectrum and National Security Act (see reference above, 4/26/24) which would provide additional funding for the ACP and the Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Reimbursement Program.

As can be seen from the above, a significant amount of attention, by several Congressional committees and subcommittees, is being paid to telecommunications and in particular, broadband availability, security, and affordability. We will continue to follow these developments in Congress and will provide updates as more information becomes available.

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