Upton unveils bipartisan bill to accelerate rural U.S. high-speed broadband access

U.S. Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) on May 27 introduced bipartisan legislation that would ramp up rural America’s access to high-speed internet.

Rep. Upton is an original cosponsor of the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act, H.R. 7022, with bill sponsor U.S. House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC). The legislation directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to accelerate the deployment of funds to bidders that commit to build a gigabit tier broadband network, begin construction within six months, and provide service within a year, according to a bill summary provided by Rep. Upton’s office.

“With so much uncertainty in today’s world, Americans should be able to be certain about this: affordable, reliable internet,” Rep. Upton said. “If we can pass this bipartisan bill and implement it, it might be one of the biggest leaps for rural America in our lifetime.”

Specifically, the FCC would be directed to take certain actions to speed up the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Phase I auction and immediately fund shovel-ready, high-speed internet projects providing consumers with broadband access within a year, according to the congressman’s bill summary.

“During the coronavirus crisis, millions of Americans have adjusted to spending more time at home — working, running their business, taking classes, and zooming with friends and family. But too many Americans have found themselves without access to dependable broadband services — especially in rural counties like in southwest Michigan — making those tasks nearly impossible to do.”

Rep. Clyburn said that the Covid-19 crisis has exposed the severity and magnitude of the rural-urban digital divide. “Telework, telemedicine and distance learning are impossible in areas without broadband access,” he said. “Our bipartisan legislation will fund hundreds of rural broadband construction projects immediately.”

In an open letter to Congress in April, the CEOs of more than 70 rural electric cooperatives committed to fiber-to-the-premise construction projects if the Clyburn-Upton proposal was adopted. In recent weeks, other rural phone and electric co-ops also have expressed support, according to Rep. Upton’s office.

Language from the Clyburn-Upton bill was included in the Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act, H.R. 6800, which the U.S. House of Representatives on May 15 approved 208-199. The bill is now under consideration in the U.S. Senate.