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Weekly Update: Keep our Internet Free

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Washington, April 13, 2019 | comments
It is no secret that I have been a long-time advocate of increasing access to rural broadband in the unserved areas of the First District.

Last year, I held two meetings of my Rural Broadband Taskforce, where I brought together federal, state, and local leaders along with industry stakeholders to discuss ways of expanding broadband to unserved areas. In March of 2018, I fought to secure more than $685 million in the government funding bill to expand federal support in leveraging private investment for the expansion of rural broadband deployment. This legislation created a new $600 million broadband grant and loan program known as the Re-Connect Program, a program dedicated to increasing access to broadband in unserved, rural areas. And in February, I sent a letter to Speaker Pelosi urging her to include policies promoting broadband investments in any upcoming infrastructure package. I have talked to countless students, businesses, health professionals and parents about the drawbacks of limited Internet access.

However, this week, House Democrats put the expansion of rural broadband at risk by passing H.R. 1644, the so-called “Save the Internet Act.” This bill would impose burdensome regulations that could lead to the delays in the deployment of new innovative technologies, such as 5G wireless networks, stifle rural broadband deployment, and decrease investment in broadband infrastructure across the country.

Currently almost 50% of rural Virginians lack access to high speed internet and 29% don’t have any internet service at all. The bill would revert regulation of the internet back to a 2015 rule, put in place by the Obama Administration, that allowed the government to regulate the internet as though it were a telecom service, such as a rotary landline phone, instead of an information service. This misguided 2015 rule applied Title II 1930s-era regulations designed for telephone companies to 21st century Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in a gross overreach of federal authority. In fact, in the two years following the 2015 order to regulate the Internet under Title II, broadband expenditures dropped over $3 billion annually. Additionally, as a result of the heavy-handed regulations of Title II, many smaller ISPs who often serve rural areas, saw their ability to invest in their networks shrink as costs associated with compliance grew.

The bill didn’t stop there. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle voted to give five unelected bureaucrats the power to set prices. They voted for increased costs, more obscure fees, more taxes, less transparency for consumers, and fewer options. They voted for the federal government to dictate how Americans use the Internet. They also chose not to regulate the edge providers such as Google and Facebook, who have been some of the greatest perpetrators of blocking, throttling and paid prioritization on the Internet. Thankfully, this bill still has a long way to go before it can become law, as support is very low in the Senate.

I believe that a permanent, bipartisan legislative solution produced in good faith is the only way to protect consumers, encourage innovation, and preserve an open Internet and that is why I’ve cosponsored three bills to do just that. First, H.R. 1101 would prohibit blocking, throttling, and paid prioritization, and requires that ISPs be transparent in their network management practices and prices. Second, H.R.1006, the Open Internet Act would specifically prohibit blocking lawful content, applications, or services as well as prohibit unjustly or unreasonably discriminating in transmitting lawful traffic. Third, H.R.1096, the Promoting Internet Freedom and Innovation Act would ensure broadband providers publicly disclose accurate information regarding their services.

It is important that the light tough regulations under current law stay in place to ensure all Americans have unfettered access to the Internet. Since the repeal of the Title II by Federal Communications Commission in 2017, download speeds have risen nearly 40 percent, and broadband investments have increased by $2.3 billion.

Rather than passing a bill that stands no chance of becoming law, we should instead be working on bipartisan solutions that will further ensure that hard-working Americans in rural areas can access the internet, not further widen the digital divide. Please rest assured, I will never stop working to bring broadband to the unserved areas of Virginia.
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