The House on Monday passed bipartisan compromise measures aimed at improving broadband mapping and securing the U.S. telecommunications supply chain. The latter includes funding to help rural wireless carriers rip and replace any existing gear from providers like Huawei that the administration has labeled a security risk.
The bipartisan Secure and Trusted Communications Networks Act, could get a vote in the Senate as soon as this week, reports The Hill.
The legislation prohibits the FCC from awarding funds to purchase telecom equipment from “any company that poses a national security risk” while requiring the government to help small communications providers rip questionable equipment out of telecom networks. The bill requires the agency to establish a $1 billion program to help small and rural communications providers remove “suspect network equipment” and replace it with products that are deemed more “secure.”
The House on Monday also approved two other telecom bills to help improve the Commission’s broadband maps; even the agency agrees with critics that the maps are inaccurate and is working to improve them. Because the FCC uses the maps to determine where to devote billions of dollars in broadband investment, the issue has drawn intense scrutiny from people who say they are being overlooked — particularly in rural areas.
“Today, the House passed two important bills designed to fix our nation’s faulty broadband maps,” House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D-NJ) and Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) said in a statement. “Accurately mapping the availability of broadband internet service is essential to promoting the deployment of high-speed service to all Americans, especially those in unserved and underserved areas.”
The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability Act would require the government to collect granular information about which areas in the U.S. have access to high-speed internet and which do not, and the Mapping Accuracy Promotes Services Act would bar anyone from “willfully, knowingly, or recklessly” submitting broadband internet access service coverage information or data to the FCC if it’s untrue.
The three bills all have companion versions set for a vote in the Senate.
Telecom associations had high praise for the House action. “We’re closer than ever to fixing our outdated broadband maps and getting a clearer picture of who has – and who still lacks – 21st century broadband connectivity. This is a major step forward by the House and requires the adoption of a state-of-the-art technology and data driven approach to modernizing the national broadband coverage maps,” said US Telecom President/CEO Jonathan Spalter. “Now it’s off to the Senate and soon enough future federal broadband spending in rural America will be based – finally – on the most accurate and granular map we’ve ever had. Almost there.”
Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, said: “NTCA appreciates the efforts of Chairman Pallone (D-NJ), and Reps. Walden (R-OR), Matsui (D-CA), and Guthrie (R-KY) to address communications supply chain security in a measured and thoughtful manner. NTCA supports more effective steps to manage risks in our nation’s communications networks and is pleased that the bill also rightly recognizes the need to ensure providers using equipment subsequently found to present such risks have the resources to remove and replace prohibited equipment.”
December 18, 2019