Representatives Fred Upton (R-MI) and House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) introduced a bill they hope will fast-track funding for certain rural broadband projects. The bipartisan “Rural Broadband Acceleration Act,” directs the FCC to fund shovel-ready, high-speed internet projects immediately, so consumers can access broadband within a year.
“The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the severity and magnitude of the rural-urban digital divide. Telework, telemedicine, and distance learning are impossible in areas without broadband access. Our bipartisan legislation will fund hundreds of rural broadband construction projects immediately,” House Majority Whip Clyburn said.
The Act directs the Commission to accelerate the deployment of funds to bidders in the upcoming Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) that commit to: 1) build a gigabit tier broadband network; 2) begin construction within six months of receiving the money; and 3) provide internet service within a year. The Clyburn-Upton language was included in the economic stimulus package the House passed in May.
The CEOs of more than 70 rural electric cooperatives last month told Congress they’d commit to fiber-to-the-premise construction projects if the Clyburn-Upton proposal was adopted, according to the lawmakers. In recent weeks, additional rural phone and electric co-ops have also expressed support. One hundred co-op fiber projects would result in 300,000 miles of fiber construction, passing more than two million rural homes, and five million rural residents. The economic impact is projected to be $8.25 billion of construction, approximately half would come from RDOF and half from the co-ops investing in their local communities.
At one hundred new projects, this initiative would lead to 240,000 new construction jobs, plus years of attendant economic activity from these construction workers living and working in these areas, according to Clyburn and Upton. Estimates are up to 200 projects would take advantage of the expedited funding schedule.
“In the 1930’s, rural electric cooperatives, in partnership with the federal government, helped pull rural economies out of the Great Depression,” said Clyburn. “As our great nation turns from COVID response to recovery, I believe that co-ops must update and adapt their mission for the 21st Century and bring broadband access to their membership. High-speed internet access is an essential service, and our rural communities cannot wait another day.”
South Carolina has more than $350 million in the FCC’s RDOF; Michigan has more than $1 billion in the auction for rural internet construction. There are eight fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) broadband projects ready to begin construction in South Carolina that await partial funding from the FCC. And several more are expected to be approved if the Clyburn-Upton legislation is enacted. In Michigan, three FTTH projects are underway and three more await the RDOF program, covering most unserved areas in the state.