While 97 percent of Georgia’s urban population has access to broadband, the urban-rural digital divide in the state remains stark and only 70.9 percent of the rural population has that access. Considering estimates are based on self-reported data from incumbent providers and determined broadly by census block, the data overstates the reality on the ground. Representative Doug Collins from Georgia’s 9th congressional district is now leading the charge to mitigate this disparity, not only in his home state but in rural regions throughout the country. In a recent “Dear Colleague” letter, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee stated his intentions of introducing the CAF (Connect America Fund) Accountability Act at the start of the 116th Congress. Collin, a Republican representing Georgia's 9th District, introduced H.R. 427 on January 10th. If passed, the bill will create stricter requirements for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s broadband infrastructure funding under CAF.
Reaching for Accountability
CAF was designed to subsidize network deployments in unserved rural areas, which have often been overlooked due to the high expense of constructing infrastructure for few and scattered populations. While many providers that have received this funding have used it properly, as Collins stated, “others have taken taxpayer dollars but failed to fulfill their obligations to their consumers… instead using taxpayer dollars ineffectively or inappropriately – turning their backs on those families at the last mile.”
Currently, CAF recipients are required to provide speeds of at least 10 Mbps download and 1 Mbps upload. While this threshold is well below the current FCC definition of “broadband” service of at least 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, Collins noted that in his home district of Northeast Georgia, a region where a majority of ISPs are CAF recipients, consumers report speeds that are “consistently abysmal, sometimes not even reaching 3 Mbps downstream and 1 Mbps.”
According to a fact sheet on the bill, H.R. 427 will require Internet access companies that accept CAF funding to routinely test the service the offer for speed and latency. They are required to send the results of those tests to the FCC on a quarterly basis. Testing must also occur in locations representative of residences and businesses areas in CAF service areas. CAF recipients must also include their method of testing and are subject to audit.
Read more of the details on the fact sheet for H.R. 427.
The Start of Something Better?
The CAF Accountability Act will attempt to ensure that CAF recipients report the speeds they actually provide subscribers and not just what they advertise. The adjustment in reported speeds can help the FCC more accurately disperse future CAF funds to only high-performing ISPs. As Collins stated, “the 21st century economy demands access to reliable broadband services.” If passed, the CAF Accountability Act will help bring Georgia and the rest of the country one step closer to ensuring that all residents have access to this essential resource.