Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., have reintroduced the Rural Broadband Protection Act, which would require a more thorough vetting and verification process for internet service providers seeking to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) high-cost support programs.
“In 2023, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every community in our country, regardless of their zip code,” Sen. Klobuchar said. “This bipartisan legislation will help Americans connect to work, school, health care and business opportunities by ensuring the companies that apply for Federal funding to build out broadband infrastructure can get the job done.”
The bill’s sponsors, who co-chair the Senate Broadband Caucus, added that the bill would provide “essential safeguards” to Universal Service Funds high-cost programs by ensuring that funding from them goes to companies with both a proven track record of success, and demonstrated sound judgment in deploying in hard-to-serve areas.
“This legislation expands on my broadband efforts, and is a product of many discussions I’ve had with small rural service providers and local leaders in my state,” said Sen. Capito. “These discussions made it abundantly clear the FCC needs congressional direction to ensure taxpayer money is being used properly to fund broadband deployment in rural areas.”
“By verifying that providers can actually deliver on the promises made to bring high-speed internet to specific areas, we can maximize the influx of broadband dollars coming to West Virginia and move closer toward our goal of closing the digital divide in communities of all sizes across our state,” the senator said.
The bill has drawn praise from broadband industry groups.
“Accountability and transparency must be bedrock principles of any government program aimed at closing the digital divide,” said USTelecom President and CEO Jonathan Spalter. “Ensuring that recipients of Universal Service Fund dollars can deliver on their deployment commitments also is essential. All Universal Service funding applicants should have to undergo a thorough vetting process by the FCC before being awarded money to deploy broadband networks.”
The latest version of the Senate bill does not appear to have companion legislation in the House.