Sen. John Thune (R-SD), chairman of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, Innovation, and the Internet, Thursday introduced a bill to dedicate a portion of FCC spectrum auction proceeds for rural broadband through September 30, 2022. Under the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program (RCAP) Act of 2020, the agency would be able to use the money to support broadband deployment in rural America.
“The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need to ensure that we provide rural areas, not just in South Dakota, but throughout the entire United States, with reliable broadband connectivity. My bill would take an important step toward the goal of closing the digital divide and does so in a responsible manner,” said Thune.
Several telecom trade associations praised the action, including NATE, the Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association, which endorsed the measure and said it would provide funding for communications infrastructure expansion. “Closing the digital divide has been a top NATE priority for several years,” said NATE President/CEO Todd Schlekeway. “The association and our member companies have been honored to collaborate with Sen. Thune and his staff on important initiatives to improve communications services in rural, underserved and unserved areas of the United States. The bill he is introducing today will accelerate development of critical communications infrastructure and the deployment of broadband in rural America. This legislation also represents an enormous economic and employment opportunity for the communications industry,” added Schlekeway.
“The legislation introduced today represents yet another measure of that leadership and a reaffirmed commitment to achieving the goal of universal service,” said NCTA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “The Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act would leverage efforts that have already proven effective in tackling connectivity challenges in rural America, and provide much-needed resources to help the FCC build upon the successes thus far of these existing programs to close the remaining digital divide.”
CTIA SVP Government Affairs Kelly Cole explained the bill “recognizes the importance of ensuring all Americans have access to broadband, especially those in rural areas, and seeks to provide the necessary resources to close the digital divide.” USTelecom President/CEO Jonathan Spalter noted the measure “recognizes the essential public-private partnership necessary to deploy high-speed broadband to every corner of the country and narrow the digital divide.”
“By establishing a permanent funding source for rural broadband that will supplement current resources and use existing programs, this bill has the potential to deliver rapid results for rural Americans in more communities across our country,” said Lisa Youngers, President and CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association.
Specifically, RCAP would:
- Set-aside 10 percent of the net proceeds from spectrum auctions for the buildout of broadband networks;
- Require the FCC to use the funds to address gaps that remain in broadband internet access service coverage in high-cost rural areas;
- Allow the Commission to use the funds in a technology-neutral manner to address shortfalls in sufficient funding of existing USF High-Cost Programs for the buildout of broadband services;
- Require the agency to consider the broadband internet access service needs of residents of tribal lands; and
- Require the FCC to produce an annual report on the distribution of funds established under this act.
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