UPDATE Late Monday night, both the Senate and House of Representatives voted to approve a $900 billion COVID relief package and a $1.4 trillion catchall spending measure. The legislation included $7 billion for broadband initiatives such as funding to improve FCC broadband coverage maps and reimburse small, rural carriers that remove untrusted gear from their networks.
Industry took notice. “Congress accomplished a bipartisan step forward by funding greater connectivity to rural, tribal, and low-income individuals, giving these communities greater access to wireless broadband as it becomes even more essential during the pandemic. There are many more steps needed to ensure the nation is fully connected and wins the race to 5G. This bill is an encouraging start in the journey toward a comprehensive broadband infrastructure package we hope Congress enacts early next year,” said Wireless Infrastructure Association President/CEO Jonathan Adelstein.
“The bill also contains an investment in apprenticeships that can help the U.S. train the workforce it needs to meet the growing demands of 5G,” Adelstein added. “We applaud the inclusion of $185 million in appropriations to support registered apprenticeships and encourage the Department of Labor to expand registered apprenticeships through intermediaries like us into new industries, including the wireless industry.”
Competitive Carriers Association President/CEO Steve Berry called the action a “giant step” in the right direction. “Including $65 million to implement the Broadband DATA Act is key to producing more accurate broadband data maps, so that areas in need have access to critical funds.” He also stressed the importance of funding so-called “rip and replace,” noting that “carriers with covered network elements now have the assurance they need to move forward with replacing necessary equipment, while still being able to provide seamless coverage to their customers.”
NCTA, the Rural Broadband Association, said its “members have set up WiFi hotspots outside hospitals, libraries and community centers and worked with schools to make sure students and families have the connectivity and equipment necessary for virtual learning,” according to Shirley Bloomfield, association CEO. “we are pleased to see funding for broadband mapping efforts, which will help us better identify where service is and is not needed, as well as support for funds that will help smaller providers replace equipment as needed to address communications supply chain security,” she stated.
The Wireless Internet Service Providers Association thanks lawmakers as well. It noted that WISPs signed the FCC’s Keep Americans Connected pledge; and, working with the FCC, they brought new broadband connectivity to rural Americans via the agency’s temporary authority to use the 5.9 GHz band. “Added to this, a significant majority of WISPA’s members provided some sort of free connectivity or publicly available WiFi to their communities on their own dime,” said the association.
“Mapping is the sleeper issue of today’s connectivity conversation, and it is great news that Congress made good on its commitment to fund the Broadband DATA Act,” said Jonathan Spalter, president and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association.
Modernizing our national broadband maps to tell us precisely who has (and who still lacks) 21st century broadband will have an outsized impact on helping to solve the access challenges still facing too many in our country.
NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith said the broadcast association “applauds the provisions that would expand eligibility to Paycheck Protection Program loans for local media outlets, including those radio and television stations which were previously excluded. These provisions, in addition to the bill’s second round of PPP funding for which many stations will also be eligible, help local broadcasters maintain their operations during this difficult time and continue to provide news and information critical to local communities as vaccine distribution commences across the country.”
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