President Trump and his Administration have emphasized the critical importance of expanding access to rural broadband during these difficult times and have indicated that they would like it to be included in the next COVID-19 relief package. As co-chair of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, I have been a leader on this issue for many years and continue to advocate for the thousands of Virginians who remain underserved in our area.
Last month, I introduced the Serving Rural America Act, a bill that would create a five-year pilot grant program at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and authorize $100 million a year for a total of $500 million over five years to expand broadband service to unserved areas of the country.
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 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 and state and federal agencies 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. Additionally, it is technology neutral to ensure new infrastructure is viable for generations.
Moreover, to be eligible for this grant, an Internet Service Provider is required to partner with a locality to ensure the needs and input of the people they are going to serve are included. Furthermore, it prioritizes areas without high speed service and includes measures to ensure interagency coordination to improve mapping through various safeguards.
I firmly believe this important piece of legislation represents a significant advancement in the discussion about how best to solve our country’s remaining broadband challenges amid this pandemic and I hope that Congressional leadership considers including this text in future COVID-19 legislation. This is must-pass legislation to ensure we close the digital divide in America.