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Amid COVID-19 Outbreak, Wittman & Johnson Introduce Bill to Increase Access to Broadband

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Washington, April 6, 2020 | comments

Today, Congressman Rob Wittman (VA-01), along with Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH-6), announced the Serving Rural America Act. This legislation would create a five-year pilot grant program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), authorizing $100 million a year for a total of $500 million over five years to expand broadband service to unserved areas of the country. The Coronavirus outbreak across the nation has further emphasized the need for reliable broadband access in every home in America – this legislation takes the steps to get there. 

“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,” said Wittman. “The Serving Rural America Act will help bring access to the approximately 19 million Americans who still lack high speed internet. The grant program created by this legislation encourages coordination between providers to better determine the available service in a proposed service area and prevents overbuilding by limiting federal broadband support to one provider in a rural area. Finally, it is technology neutral to ensure new infrastructure is viable for generations. This is must-pass legislation to ensure we close the digital divide in America.”   

“The current coronavirus crisis has starkly illustrated the lack of high-speed broadband in sections of Eastern and Southeastern Ohio,” said Bill Johnson. “The Serving Rural America Act, if enacted, would greatly help the hard-working people I represent. Importantly, it would require community partnerships, it would institute transparency throughout the process, and it would also provide testing to determine if providers are meeting the necessary requirements. If solutions like this aren’t enacted soon, there won’t be a rural broadband problem left to solve, because people will leave rural America and move to places where they and their children have access to the ever-expanding digital world. The coronavirus outbreak didn’t create this crisis, but it has highlighted it. I’ll continue fighting to close the urban-rural digital divide, and I encourage all of my colleagues to support this critical grant program I introduced with my colleague, Rep. Rob Wittman.”

“We applaud the efforts of Rep. Wittman to support the deployment of broadband infrastructure,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association. “From prioritizing higher speeds and better performing services to promoting effective coordination among federal programs, this bill represents a significant advancement in the discussion about how best to solve our country’s remaining broadband challenges. We hope that this legislation will serve as a foundation in further debates about how to address these critical issues and ensure that no American is on the outside looking in when it comes to broadband availability in the future.”

Specific Information:

  • To be eligible, an internet service provider is required to partner with a locality, city, county, wireless authority, or planning district commission to ensure the needs and input of residents are included.
  • Prioritizes funding to areas without 25Mbps/3Mbps.
  • Includes important measures to ensure interagency coordination and safeguards against overbuilding of other federally funded broadband projects.
  • Features a challenge process that allows the public or other existing service providers in the proposed service area to submit a challenge to the FCC, to determine whether the proposed project would duplicate existing broadband service in the proposed service area.
  • Includes important measures to improve mapping including: analysis of third party data, crowd sourcing, and site specific testing in service areas where mapping data has been contested.
  • Instructs the FCC to report to Congress annually on the progress of the program based on buildout data provided by recipients.
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