Tag: "congress"

Posted April 9, 2021 by Jericho Casper

With all the buzz around the prioritization of municipal and cooperative broadband networks in the American Jobs Plan unveiled by President Biden last week, let’s not forget about one leading voice in Congress calling for broadband for all. 

Last year, with assistance from the House Rural Broadband Task Force he created, Rep. James Clyburn, D-SC, introduced the Affordable, Accessible Internet for All (AAIA) Act, a bold bill that proposed a $100 billion investment to build high-speed Internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of the country. 

Although the legislation stalled in the Mitch McConnell-led U.S. Senate prior to the 2020 election, it did set the Democratic agenda on broadband moving forward. Now, as the Biden Administration has settled into the White House and with Democrats in control of Congress, Clyburn has reintroduced a slightly slimmed down $94 billion AAIA, alongside companion legislation in the U.S. Senate sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-MN.

If it passes, the bill would be a game changer, as it goes beyond funding high-speed Internet infrastructure to attack the digital divide from essentially every angle. The bill includes funding and dedicated support to address barriers that prevent millions of Americans from having access to affordable, high-speed Internet connectivity. It backs measures that would encourage pricing transparency, promote Internet adoption and digital literacy initiatives, guarantee affordability, and protect the rights of workers who would build the networks. 

While all of these measures are critical, one of the most important requirements included in the revamped legislation is for input from local, state and Tribal governments to be taken into account when determining what projects AAIA will fund. 

Engaging local governments and local digital equity organizations in determining how billions of dollars in federal grants should be distributed may seem like second nature, yet in previous federal programs the views of these organizations, which understand the digital needs of their surrounding communities the most, have largely not been taken into consideration. Failing to consult with these...

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Posted February 25, 2021 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Last week, House Republicans introduced a bill package ostensibly to promote broadband expansion and competition across the country. In reality, the legislation is a wish list of monopoly cable and telephone companies that will protect them from competition and decrease their accountability to the public. It would also ban communities from building their own networks or engaging in public-private partnerships.

 

A Rights of Way Free-for-All

About a third of the bills in the Boosting Broadband Connectivity Agenda would preempt regulations (including application timelines and fee schedules) set by government subdivisions on wireless deployment. The major mobile carriers are already in the process of slowly rolling out 5G networks which will require the installation of hundreds of thousands of small-cell sites over the next several years. AT&T spent more than $23 billion on the recently concluded 3.7 GHz C-band auction, with T-Mobile spending $9.3 billion. Verizon outspent every other bidder combined at $45 billion. Establishing shorter shot clocks and maximum fees for the installation of new hardware in public Rights of Way would simultaneously reduce the income municipalities receive and lead to the proliferation of poles and attachments across the country with limited public input. We’ve already seen how it has negatively impacted cities like Milwaukee and Tucson

Another handful of bills in the package would remove environmental or historic preservation regulations for wireless and wireless providers. If passed, they would exempt from review new or replacement facilities installed in public Rights of Way and those less than 50 feet tall (or ten feet taller than surrounding buildings), as well as remove protections so that telecommunications facilities can be installed on federal lands. 

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Posted December 23, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

If you have been following our series on the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All (AAIA) Act, you already know the proposed legislation calls for a $100 billion investment in expanding broadband access and affordability in unserved and underserved parts of the country. In this fourth installment of the series, we explore the part of the bill that contains the bulk of the funding. Of the $100 billion proposed in the bill, $85 billion of it can be found in the Title III - Broadband Access section.

Amending the Communications Act of 1934, Section 3101 of the bill appropriates $80 billion for “competitive bidding systems” to subsidize broadband infrastructure. That is to say, it requires the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and states, to use “competitive bidding systems” for Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to bid on broadband deployment projects in “areas with service below 25/25 Megabits per second (Mbps), and areas with low-tier service, defined as areas with service between 25/25 and 100/100 Mbps.” The term “competitive bidding” seems to suggest a reverse auction process, though it hardly makes sense for each state to set up such a system given the logistical challenges. A legislative staffer responded to our email earlier this year saying he believed that language would allow for state programs that solicited applications from ISPs and scored them for evaluation, much like Minnesota’s Border-to-Border Broadband program operates. However, he noted that the FCC would interpret that language ultimately. More on this below. 

Prioritizing Higher Upload Speeds

It’s worth noting that this part of the bill implicitly acknowledges the insufficiency of the current FCC definition of a minimum broadband speed of 25/3 Mbps. As it stands now, the FCC defines “unserved areas” as parts of the country where there is either no Internet access or broadband speeds under 25/3. This legislation raises the bar and broadens the definition of “unserved areas.” It’s a step in the...

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Posted December 17, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

Without good information from Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the federal government is essentially shooting in the dark when it comes to determining how to best target the allocation of resources for underserved and unserved communities. Even private sector investments are less efficient because of the lack of good data about broadband availability and pricing. That’s why the second major section of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA), currently languishing in the U.S. Senate, aims to address the nebulous nature of broadband data at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

In this third installment of our series on the AAIA, we explore the ”Title II – Broadband Transparency” section of the Act, which requires the FCC to adopt rules to gather accurate and up-to-date information from ISPs about broadband service plan prices and subscription rates. It also requires the FCC to collect data that will allow the federal government to assess the resiliency of the nation’s broadband network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency.

Better Data is Needed

Anyone who closely follows FCC news is already familiar with the problems associated with the agency’s broadband coverage maps, which most experts agree overstate actual broadband coverage. Though recent studies indicate there may be as many as 41 million people who lack access to fixed broadband in the United States that meets minimum speed of 25/3 Megabits per second (Mbps), the FCC claims that number is closer to 18 million. It’s a big discrepancy with big dollar implications, as the coverage maps are the basis upon which agencies and states make major funding decisions.

The problem lies with the FCC’s existing Form 477, which seeks service availability data from ISPs. There’s widespread agreement that the form gleans data that is inaccurate, outdated, and misconstrued, as we detail here...

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Posted December 11, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

Last week we began our broad overview of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, sweeping legislation that calls for a $100 billion investment in broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved parts of the country, as well as federal funding and coordinated support to meet the myriad of barriers that prevent tens of millions of Americans from having access to affordable and reliable Internet connectivity.

The bill (H.R. 7302) has already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC) and members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force. The Senate version of the bill (S. 4131), which was filed by Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar, co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, has stalled, thanks to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell who has “has buried the legislation in his graveyard,” in the words of Rep. Clyburn.

In this second-installment of a series of posts exploring the major sections contained in the proposed legislation, we look at the “Title I – Digital Equity” portion of the bill.

New Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG)

The first thing the legislation does is requires the Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Communications and Information to establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). The new office, which would be allocated a $26 million annual budget, would run point on federal outreach to communities who lack access, or need better broadband access, via regional workshops, trainings, and the drafting of reports that would provide guidance on best-practices.

The office would also be required to track federal spending on any broadband related expenditures, as well as coordinate with other federal agencies to conduct a study on how affordability factors into households’ lack of connectivity...

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Posted December 2, 2020 by Sean Gonsalves

As House GOP leaders ask the Government Accountability Office to audit the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect program because of concerns federal funds are being used to “overbuild,” Democratic leaders in the House and Senate have filed legislation that aims to build broadband infrastructure on a national-scale.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is a bill that harkens back to when the federal government – through FDR’s Rural Electrification Administration, established in 1935, and the Rural Electrification Act, passed by Congress in 1936 – invested in local cooperatives and brought electricity to the abundance of Americans still living in candle-lit homes without electrically-powered refrigerators.

The proposed legislation may well frame the Democratic agenda on broadband moving forward, as the Biden administration enters the White House in January. It’s a bold bill that has garnered the support of a who’s-who of broadband experts and advocacy organizations from Public Knowledge, the National Consumer Law Center and New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute to the Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the National Digital Inclusion Alliance.

Breaking it Down

There’s a lot to unpack in this bill, which is why we are publishing a series of posts exploring the major sections contained in the proposed legislation. This first installment is the 30,000-foot view. Forthcoming posts will examine the legislative details where the devil – or the better angels – can be found.

Broadly, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act calls for a $100 billion investment to build high-speed broadband infrastructure that targets unserved and underserved parts of the country. It aims to ensure that every household has affordable and reliable access to online education, telemedicine, remote work, and other business opportunities in which Internet connectivity can no longer be considered a mere luxury, but a necessity.

In the U.S. House of Representatives, the legislation, which...

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Posted July 28, 2020 by Ry Marcattilio-McCracken

Yesterday, Congresswoman Deb Haaland and Senator Elizabeth Warren introduced the DIGITAL Reservations Act, a bill which ends the current Federal Communications Commission (FCC) practice of selling wireless spectrum rights on the lands of Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations and grants ownership, management, and governance of all spectrum to those groups in perpetuity. The bill also calls for the creation of an FCC fund to support broadband efforts, an advisory team to provide regulatory and technical assistance, and a data collection program to support future connectivity efforts in those communities. It represents a dramatic new approach to addressing the digital divide in Tribal communities, which remain among the least well-connected of all across the United States today.

Breaking Down the Bill

The Deploying the Internet by Guaranteeing Indian Tribes Autonomy over Licensing on Reservations Act [pdf] offers significant investment in a multi-pronged approach. It’s driven by twin impulses. From the bill

To date, the [Federal Communications] Commission has failed to implement nationwide spectrum opportunities or uniform licensing for Indian Tribes and Native Hawaiian organizations to make spectrum available over their Tribal lands or account for the unmet needs of native Nations in compliance with the Federal trust responsibility.

The Commission’s actions parallel failed Federal Reservation Era policy that divided Indian land holdings and created systemic barriers to Indian Tribes’ economic development and legal jurisdictional complications on Tribal lands that continue to disadvantage Tribal communities today.

The bill takes significant steps in outlining the new ownership framework. If enacted, it eliminates future spectrum auctions over Tribal and Native Hawaiian lands. To address existing partnerships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs), the bill also provides a process to ensure that existing third-party licensees “build or divest”...

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Posted June 26, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Update 7/7/20:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act, which includes the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, on Wednesday, July 1. The bill is currently in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his opposition to the legislation, calling it "pointless political theater," and saying, "this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate."

Original article:

Earlier this week, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, a sweeping bill that would take major steps toward closing the digital divide.

We reported on the legislation yesterday, but today we want to take a closer look at the bill text [pdf]. Below, we examine some details of how the act would fund broadband deployment and affordable connections for Americans across the country.

Grand Plans to Build Broadband, Connect the Unconnected

Among the investments proposed in the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, the largest is $80 billion to fund the construction of broadband networks in unserved and underserved areas. That amount dwarfs the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) upcoming $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF).

Like RDOF, the legislation calls for a competitive bidding process to distribute the funds. In 2018, the FCC used a bidding process in the Connect America Fund phase II reverse auction. Compared to earlier subsidies granted under that program, which largely went to large monopolies to deploy slow, outdated DSL...

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Posted June 25, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

Update 7/7/20:

The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Moving Forward Act, which includes the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, on Wednesday, July 1. The bill is currently in the Senate, where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has announced his opposition to the legislation, calling it "pointless political theater," and saying, "this nonsense is not going anywhere in the Senate."

Original article:

Yesterday, representatives in the U.S. House introduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which calls for the federal government to invest $100 billion to ensure all Americans have access to affordable, high-quality Internet access — a need that has been exacerbated by the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.

The proposed legislation would fund broadband deployment in unserved and underserved areas and provide affordable home Internet access, among other measures meant to reduce the digital divide in both rural and urban communities. It would also remove state restrictions on community-owned broadband networks.

“This bill is an historic effort to address all the causes of our persistent digital divide,” said Angela Siefer, Executive Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, in a statement.

Contact your House representative this week to ask them to support the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act and to sign on as a cosponsor. Find your representative and their contact information using this online search tool. Keep reading for more details on the legislation and a short example of what you can say to your representative.

"A Major Leap" Toward Connecting Everyone

House Majority Whip James Clyburn of...

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Posted February 6, 2020 by Katie Kienbaum

At the end of 2019, Congress passed the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act, fixing a tax law change that threatened to raise rates and delay the expansion of broadband for rural cooperative members across the country.

Passage of the RURAL Act ensures that cooperatives can accept federal funds for broadband deployment, disaster relief, and other efforts without risking their nonprofit tax exempt status. A change in the 2017 tax law would have labeled these funds as revenue for the first time, potentially causing co-ops to exceed the allowable percentage of non-member income they must maintain to remain tax exempt.

After Senators Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and Rob Portman(R-Ohio) and Representatives Adrian Smith (R-) and Terri Sewell (D-Ala.) introduced the bipartisan bill in April, it attracted 55 additional cosponsors in the Senate and more than 300 in the House. It was eventually incorporated into the consolidated appropriations act and signed into law in December.

“Obstacles From the Federal Government”

We described the possible impact of the 2017 tax law change on rural cooperatives over a year ago, when Senator Smith first brought the issue to our attention.

Failure to remedy it would have forced some co-ops to choose between continuing with desperately needed broadband and disaster recovery projects and increasing their members’ rates. Northwestern Electric Cooperative CEO Tyson Littau described the difficulty of that decision to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA):

Do we rebuild and try to strengthen our distribution system and pay the taxes, or do we delay the mitigation project that would improve 1,200 miles of line throughout our territory? I think we have a responsibility to the membership to improve the system for the future.

Gulf Coast Electric Cooperative was another co-op faced with the prospect of raising electric rates to...

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