Senate GOP leaders introduced a bill to speed broadband deployment. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Roger Wicker (R-MS), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), say their Accelerating Broadband Connectivity (ABC) Act of 2020 would create an account to be used by the FCC to incentivize winning bidders of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction to complete their buildout obligations on a shorter timeline.
“One of my top priorities is expanding access to broadband for communities of all sizes,” said Wicker. “The coronavirus pandemic has further underscored this pressing need, and I hope our legislation will advance quickly to meet the connectivity needs of Americans living in rural areas.”
The Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act would:
- Create a fund to be used by the FCC following the RDOF Phase I auction to incentivize winning bidders to complete their buildout obligations on an accelerated timeline;
- Build upon the existing RDOF process to get high-speed broadband service to rural consumers much faster than the current timetable for deployment using RDOF dollars;
- Require service providers who receive funds from the ABC Fund to meet a series of accelerated milestones for their RDOF deployments;
- Allow the FCC to conduct the auction in a way that maximizes value to American taxpayers while connecting consumers more quickly.
Rural telecom associations NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom – The Broadband Association, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association embraced the measure.
“On behalf of the NTCA members who have led the charge to date in deploying robust broadband-capable networks in rural areas, we welcome this focus on how to deliver as quickly as possible on the promise of broadband in areas still lacking access,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield.
USTelecom President/CEO Jonathan Spalter said the bill strengthens the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in meaningful and innovative ways. It adds essential funding to the program and creates new incentives to accelerate the construction of broadband infrastructure, “something that matters more than anything if you live in a community still lacking connectivity. Finishing the job of connecting all Americans requires a partnership with Washington and bolstering and expediting RDOF is a smart and achievable place to start.”
“Geography, population densities and unfavorable economics, among other factors, bedevil the task of policymakers to get broadband out to the unserved. The FCC’s pending $20.4 billion RDOF reverse auction will soon provide support to rural providers to bring millions of Americans online,” said WISPA President/CEO Claude Aiken.
Aiken emphasized: “The pandemic, however, means that we must hasten those efforts. Rural providers who have won RDOF support and who voluntarily choose to begin construction within 180 days and deliver broadband within one year would be eligible to receive expedited, one-time funding offers from the FCC to build those networks.”