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ICYMI -- The Wall Street Journal: Senior House Lawmakers Push to Speed Up Broadband Funding

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May 28, 2020
Thu, 05/28/2020 - 12:00am -- 1brightstar
Senior House Lawmakers Push To Speed Up Broadband Funding Bipartisan Bill Is A Bid To Close Gaps In High-Speed Internet Service Exposed By The Coronavirus PandemicBy Ryan Tracy May 28, 2020 8:00 am ET WASHINGTON—Two House lawmakers are pushing the Federal Communications Commission to speed up broadband infrastructure funding to rural parts of the U.S., in a bid to close gaps in high-speed internet service exposed by the coronavirus pandemic. A bill introduced Wednesday by House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D., S.C.) and Fred Upton (R., Mich.), former chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, would tap $16 billion in funding the FCC is planning to start doling out this fall. It would order the FCC to send the funding ahead of schedule to rural areas where a single company is ready to provide ultrahigh-speed “gigabit” service. “We ought to commit that money now,” Mr. Clyburn said, noting that remote schooling and health care aren’t available to many residents in rural South Carolina. The pandemic, he said, has exposed what needs to be done to get service to all Americans. Mr. Upton said residents of southwest Michigan in particular have been desperate for dependable broadband during the coronavirus crisis. “If we can pass this bipartisan bill and implement it, it might be one of the biggest leaps for rural America in our lifetime,” he said. The FCC plans to allocate the funds in an auction in October, sending the money to companies bidding to build broadband networks in underserved areas. The bill would require the agency to start accepting nationwide applications for the broadband funding this summer and make final awards by the end of September in areas where there is only one company bidding. To get the early funding, a company would have to offer gigabit speeds, which typically require fiber-optic cable technology, and would have to be ready to begin construction within six months and make service available within a year, according to the bill. Under the FCC’s current auction plan, funding could be distributed over as long as 10 years, though winning bidders would have to serve most locations within five years. The agency likely wouldn’t need to seek public comment on new rules for the auction to implement the bill, according to a May 26 memo to Mr. Clyburn’s office from the Congressional Research Service. Mr. Clyburn said the bill would help rural electric cooperatives that want to build broadband networks in underserved areas, the same areas where they laid electricity lines decades ago. The FCC has in the past defended its auction plans as a bold step to build faster internet in rural America. The agency says it is designing the October auction to steer funding to companies offering gigabit-speed technologies, which use fiber-optic cable to provide upload and download speeds of 1,000 megabits a second. The congressmen’s legislation mirrors language included in roughly $3 trillion pandemic-response legislation passed by House Democrats this month. Mr. Upton’s support gives it a boost with Republicans, who almost universally opposed that broader bill. The Senate hasn’t taken up the broader bill, known as the “Heroes Act.” Read the full story on https://www.wsj.com/.

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