Wicker, Capito, Blackburn introduce bill to hasten rural broadband deployment

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker (R-MS), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) on Monday introduced legislation to accelerate rural broadband deployment in the United States.

“One of my top priorities is expanding access to broadband for communities of all sizes,” Sen. Wicker said. “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, including many in my home state of Mississippi.”

“Our legislation is another policy solution supporting broadband deployment in rural, underserved communities,” Sen. Capito said. “By incentivizing accelerated broadband deployment projects, we can not only connect our communities, but do so quickly.”

Sen. Wicker sponsored the Accelerating Broadband Connectivity (ABC) Act of 2020, S. 4021, with original cosponsors Sens. Capito and Blackburn, to create a fund that would be used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to incentivize winning bidders of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction to complete their buildout obligations on a shorter timeline, according to a bill summary provided by the lawmakers.

“High-speed internet service is essential in the 21st century,” said Sen. Capito. “West Virginia communities need access to this invaluable tool in order to provide opportunity to and educate the next generation.”

If enacted, the legislation also would require service providers who receive funds under the bill to meet a series of accelerated milestones for their RDOF deployments; and would allow the FCC to conduct the auction in a way that maximizes value to American taxpayers while connecting consumers more quickly, according to the summary.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the move to online work, schooling and healthcare has put a spotlight on the divide between communities with internet access and those without it,” Sen. Blackburn said. “The ABC Fund will bring broadband to unserved communities with the urgency it requires so that all communities are up to speed with 21st century internet access.”

NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association; USTelecom – The Broadband Association; and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association support the measure.

U.S. Sens. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and Jerry Moran (R-KS) on June 23 signed on as cosponsors of S. 4021.