In a move dovetailing the proposed Keeping Critical Connections Act (see our blog of April 17, 2020), a pair of Republican Congressmen have introduced the Serving Rural America Act. The proposed legislation from Representatives Bill Johnson (R-VA) and Rob Wittman (R-GA) would create a five-year pilot program at the FCC, authorizing $100 million a year over 5 years (a total of $500 million) to expand broadband service to unserved rural areas of our country.
“The current coronavirus crisis has starkly illustrated the lack of high-speed broadband in sections of Eastern and Southern Ohio,” said Rep. Johnson in a press release. “If enacted, (the Act) would greatly help the…people I represent, Importantly, it would require community partnerships between providers and local governments and stakeholders, institute transparency throughout the process, and provide testing to determine if providers are meeting the necessary requirements.
In the same press release, Rep. Wittman said, “In this time of crisis, demand for high-speed broadband has never been greater; closing the digital divide is the key to lifting up countless communities and populations in unserved areas. “The…Act will help bring access to the approximately 19 million Americans who still lack high speed internet.”
The Act, 1.) Bases eligibility for funding on the provider partnering with a locality, city, county, wireless authority or planning district commission; 2.) Prioritizes funding to areas without 25Mbps/3Mbps; 3.) Includes safeguards against the overbuilding of other federally funded broadband projects; 4.) Features a challenge process to determine whether the proposed project duplicates existing broadband service; 5.) Includes measures to improve mapping; and 6) Instructs the FCC to report to Congress annually on the progress of the program.
It is really rewarding to see at least some of our federal legislators move away from partisan politics, while concentrating more of their efforts in helping rural America bridge the digital divide.