House Democrats, including Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), released the text of their $1.5 trillion infrastructure package today, including $100 billion to improve availability and access to high-speed broadband across the country.
The broadband provisions of the proposed Moving Forward Act (HR 2) would “promote competition for broadband internet infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities, prioritizing those with persistent poverty,” would address remote learning and gaps in broadband adoption and digital skills; and would provide support for broadband service to low-income households and the recently unemployed, according to a joint press release from the seven committee chairs who introduced the bill.
Some of these provisions are similar to or expand on provisions in a broadband infrastructure and adoption plan put forth by a dozen House Democrats earlier this year (TR Daily, April 30), including Majority Whip and Democratic Rural Broadband Task Force Chairman James Clyburn (D., S.C.), Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone Jr. (D., N.J.), and communications and technology subcommittee Chairman Mike Doyle (D., Pa.), which in turn updated and expanded on broadband provisions in the House Democrats’ “Moving America Forward” infrastructure framework proposed in January (TR Daily, Jan. 29).
The bill released today would appropriate $80 billion in funding for broadband deployment to unserved and underserved areas—called “low-tier” service areas—to be awarded through competitive bidding. Of that sum, $60 billion would be awarded through a nationwide competitive bidding process, and $20 billion would distributed to the states, based on population, for statewide competitive bidding processes. For these purposes, an unserved area would be one that lacks service at 25 megabits per second symmetrical service, and low-tier service would be between 25 Mbps symmetrical service and 100 Mbps symmetrical service. State competitive bidding processes could award funding to anchor institutions with service at speeds less than 1 gigabit per second per 1,000 users, as well as to providers deploying service to unserved and underserved areas.
The bill would prohibit enforcement of state laws that “inhibit local governments, public-private partnerships, and cooperatives from delivering broadband service.”
HR 2 would also appropriate $9 billion to fund discounts for low-income and recently unemployed subscribers, at the rate of $50 per month or $75 per month for households on tribal lands. Providers could also be reimbursed up to $100 for providing qualified households with a connected device, with households paying between $10 and $50 of the cost of the device, with a limit of one device per household. The Broadband Connectivity Fund would be administered by the FCC, which would have 180 days to adopt rules for the program.
HR 2 would appropriate $200 million for grants to support state participation in the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier. It would require the FCC “to coordinate with the Department of Agriculture to set up automated connections between the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier and the National Accuracy Clearinghouse for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP),” according to a 96-page section-by-section summary of the 2,309-page bill.
It would repeal the FCC’s 2017 fourth report and order that limited “enhanced” tribal Lifeline support to facilities-based providers and to subscribers in rural areas; eliminated the “freeze” on changing Lifeline providers more than once a year; and clarified that Lifeline will only support mobile broadband at 3G or higher service levels, barring support for “premium Wi-Fi” that requires a Wi-Fi hotspot (TR Daily, Nov. 16, 2017).
It would also bar the FCC from relying on a 2019 notice of proposed rulemaking in the matter of the universal service contribution methodology, which sought input on establishing an overall cap for the Universal Service Fund (TR Daily, May 31, 2019).
Both the 2017 report and order and the 2019 notice of proposed rulemaking were adopted over the dissents of two Democratic Commissioners.
HR 2 would appropriate $5 billion to support remote learning through a grant program under the E-rate authority of the 1996 Telecommunications Act. The grants could fund wired and wireless broadband service to students’ and teachers’ homes, as well as connected devices for students’ and teachers’ use at home. The grants could also support library loans of mobile hotspots. At least 5% of the funding for this program would be designated for use on tribal lands.
The bill would require the FCC to update its E-rate rules to allow E-rate support to be used for Wi-Fi service on school buses.
HR 2 would appropriate $24 million for the FCC to fund the broadband data collection and broadband map generation mandated by the Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (Broadband DATA) Act, which became law earlier this year (TR Daily, March 24).
The bill would require the FCC to collect broadband pricing and subscription data, as well as “data to determine the resiliency of the network in the event of a natural disaster or emergency.” The FCC would then have to make the collected data available “to other Federal agencies, State-run broadband entities, a unit of local government, and an individual conducting research for noncommercial purposes. The FCC may not share any of this data with an entity or individual unless the agency has determined that they have the capacity to properly protect any personally identifiable information contained in the data.”
It would require the FCC to coordinate with the postmaster general and other agencies that operate fleets of vehicles if such coordination could yield better data on wireless broadband availability.
HR 2 would require the FCC to issue rules on a standardized “broadband label” for the disclosure of service price and terms to consumers.
The bill would establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which would have responsibility for tracking federal support for broadband deployment and adoption; coordinating a streamlined application process across agencies; and conducting community outreach. It would appropriate $26 million to establish the office and authorize $26 million in annual funding, according to a fact sheet released by the sponsors.
The OICG would also administer a State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program, for which the bill would appropriate $60 million to fund the development of state digital equity plans and $625 million to fund the implementation of the state plans.
The OICG would administer a State Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program “to award grants to local entities, tribal governments, Alaska Native entities, Native Hawaiian organizations, non-profits, anchor institutions, educational entities, and workforce development programs for digital inclusion activities.” The bill would appropriate $625 million for those grants.
For both digital equity grant programs, at least 5% of the funds must be awarded to Indian tribes, Alaska natives, or Native Hawaiian organizations.
HR 2 would also create a Broadband Infrastructure Financing Innovation program to be administered by NTIA that would “provide State and local governments, public authorities, and public-private partnerships financial assistance in the form of secured loans, lines of credit, and loan guarantees for eligible broadband infrastructure financing projects.”
According to the section-by-section summary, “NTIA must determine that BIFIA funding for the project will: (a) foster partnerships that will attract private and public investment for the project; (b) enable the project to proceed at an earlier date than the project would otherwise be able to proceed or reduce the lifecycle costs; and (c) reduce the Federal contribution for the project.”
The program would give preference to projects that allow open access by competing providers. Applicants must show that construction would begin within 90 days of receipt of financial assistance.
The bill would authorize the Next Generation 9-1-1 Implementation Coordination Office to provide $12 billion in grants over five years for the implementation of next-generation 911 service.
The bill also includes provisions allowing certain local education grants and school infrastructure bonds to be used to expand access to high-speed broadband, among other things.
HR 2 would include a “dig-once” provision that would create a Dig Once Funding Task Force “to estimate the cost of a nationwide ‘dig once’ requirement, and to propose and evaluate options for funding such a requirement.”
It would authorize retention of rental fees for rights-of-way and other telecommunications infrastructure use authorizations by the Department of the Interior.
It would establish “a 30% tax credit for State, local, and tribal governments for the operations and maintenance costs of government owned broadband systems.”
In a statement, Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, said, “By including provisions about digital equity and broadband affordability as well as funding deployment, this legislation will not only ensure that all areas are served with high-quality broadband, but also that Americans can afford it while having the skills and devices they need to access it. This comprehensive approach, if enacted, would significantly narrow the digital divide.”
She added, “We look forward to additional legislation that will further support a competitive broadband marketplace. We thank House Democrats for recognizing the importance of broadband infrastructure, affordability, and digital equity for Americans everywhere, and urge Republicans to join with Democrats to enact this important legislation that benefits all constituents on a bipartisan basis.” —Lynn Stanton, [email protected]
MainStory: FederalNews Congress FCC NTIA BroadbandDeployment BroadbandAdoption
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