National Broadband Legislation, Funding, and Policy Making in 2020

The American flag, US constitution and a judge’s gavel symbolizing the work Congress is doing on broadband legislation.

There are four pieces of broadband legislation in Congress right now.

Broadband legislation and funding have taken off in the last few years, on both the state and federal levels. Over the next two weeks, OTELCO will highlight some of the critical efforts our leaders have been making, starting with a look at the broadband efforts Congress, the FCC, and the USDA have in the works for 2020.

Congress

There are four pieces of broadband legislation in Congress right now. You can click on the name of any of the acts below to read them online.

The Rural Broadband Network Advancement Act of 2019

The Rural Broadband Network Advancement Act of 2019 was introduced in May of 2019, by Representative Mullin of New York. This act aims to offset the extra cost broadband providers pay to bring their service to “high-cost rural areas” by having the FCC collect a fee from edge providers” that connect with consumers over these rural networks.  As of now, this act is still in the House of Representatives’ Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

The American Broadband Buildout Act of 2019

This act is sponsored by none other than Maine Senator Susan Collins. It was introduced to the Senate in June of 2019, where it remains with the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. This bill would provide $5 billion in funding that the FCC would use to match up to 50% of State Level broadband projects, including the promotion of public awareness campaigns and support for digital literacy programs.

Under this act, the FCC would be required to prioritize areas where either 68% of households have a connection below 10/1 Mbps or where 40.5% of households have a connection of /3 Mbps. To qualify for funding under this act, a project must:

  • Construct last-mile infrastructure that provides at least 25/10 Mbps
  • Not partake in overbuilding by forgoing investments in areas that are already served by 25/3 Mbps or have already been built out using federal or state funding
  • Be funded by a public-private partnership where the private company is providing at least 25% of the funds

The ACCESS BROADBAND Act

The Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Service, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand Act, also known as the ACCESS BROADBAND Act, was introduced to the House in February of 2019 and passed the House in May of that same year. Right now, it is with the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. The goal of this piece of broadband legislation is to establish the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth. This new office would:

  • Connect with communities who need broadband access to help them develop their own strategies for expanding broadband access and adoption
  • Track and report on any Federal Dollars being used for broadband deployment, including information on the construction, use of, and access to that broadband infrastructure
  • Work with all federal organizations offering funding to create one standard application that could be accessed through a central website
  • Coordinate with all the federal grant programs to ensure that funds are being distributed in a fair and cost-effective way that serves the most people while promoting economic growth

Save the Internet Act of 2019

The Save the Internet Act is the only piece of broadband legislation on this list that isn’t designed to expanding connectivity. This bill, introduced by another Maine Senator, Angus King, would reverse the FCC’s 2017 Net Neutrality repeal, ensuring that the Internet stays out of the control of “big business” who stand to exploit it. According to the Senator, “There is no tool more fundamental and vital to success in the 21st-century economy than the open internet.” He insists that without Net-Neutrality, “the ‘big guys’ can drive up costs – which would stifle innovation and make it harder for Maine small businesses to compete in the global marketplace.”

Take a loot at OTELCO’s Net Neutrality Timeline!

A picture of FCC chairman Ajit Pai with the OTELCO banner behind him in one of OTELCO's conference rooms. Pai has been a proponent of broadband legislation and expansion.

Ajit Pai, the chairman of the FCC, is a strong proponent of broadband expansion.

The FCC and the USDA

This year, the FCC and the USDA have released large amounts of funding for broadband expansion. In January of 2020, the FCC’s new Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Report and Order was adopted, establishing the framework for the new fund. The RDOF fund is “the Commission’s next step in bridging the digital divide and will build off of the success of the CAF II reverse auction model.

There will be two phases of funding. The first will begin in October of 2020, with at least $16 billion available for census block areas that are “wholly unserved with fixed broadband at speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps.”  Bidders in the Phase I auction will need to commit to providing 50/20 Mbps. According to the FFC, Phase I will target 6 million unserved people. Phase II will focus on census blocks that are “partially served” with 25/3 Mbps, and any bidders who did not receive funding in Phase I. RDOF will be technology-neutral but will prioritize networks with “higher speeds, greater usage allowances, and lower latency.”

At the end of 2019, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, Sony Perdue, announced a second round of ReConnect funding.  As some readers may remember from our previous blog on the subject, in March of 2018,  the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service was given $600 million of the government’s 1.3 trillion omnibus spending bill. That money allowed the USDA to invest $573,516,969 in rural broadband development across the country.

The FCC and the USDA are also working together to promote rural broadband development on agricultural land, through the Task Force for Reviewing the Connectivity and Technology Needs of Precision Agriculture in the United States (Precision Ag Connectivity Task Force or Task Force). The task force will work with the USDA to promote the “rapid, expanded deployment of broadband Internet access service on unserved agricultural landthrough policy recommendations. The task force will also advise the FCC on policies aimed to further connectivity to U.S. farmers.

State-Level Broadband Legislation

Next week, we will explore broadband legislation and funding going on at the state level. OTELCO is very involved in Broadband Legislation, especially in Maine and Alabama, and next week’s blog will provide readers with an inside look at the types of funding OTELCO is seeking in 2020. In the meantime, if you are interested in broadband development in your community, please download OTELCO’s Municipal Broadband guide

Download OTELCO's Free Municipal Broadband Guide