As the coronavirus pandemic continues to strain the broadband world, the White House and top lawmakers are still negotiating what legislative fixes to provide for telecom problems. Republicans and Democrats are still tussling over how much money to address issues such as the digital “homework gap.”
Amidst this effort NTCA, the Rural Broadband Association endorsed the “Keeping Critical Connections Act,” introduced by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND) Tina Smith (D-MN), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Doug Jones (D-AL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Barrasso (R-WY), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Todd Young (R-IN), and Gary Peters (D-MI).
This bill would help ensure that smaller broadband operators can sustain essential connections for customers if those customers become unable to pay their broadband bills due to a loss or reduction in income related to the COVID-19 crisis, and it would also empower such smaller operators to offer free or discounted service or broadband upgrades to households with students in need of distance learning capability.
“Small, community-based broadband providers such as those in NTCA’s membership are highly motivated to keep all of their friends and neighbors connected, especially during this unprecedented emergency,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “Now more than ever, the ability to telework, study from home, and access critical medical services via telemedicine is essential.”
At the same time, she noted the pandemic is already causing significant economic disruption across the globe, and it presents the risk of causing economic distress for many Americans. “This bill will help smaller broadband providers – who themselves will face struggles in these challenging times – keep more Americans online in the face of such economic distress, sustaining connections that are becoming more critical by the day. This legislation is perhaps one of the most important steps that can be taken here and now to keep Americans connected at a time when those existing connections are needed most and perhaps most at risk,” Bloomfield said.