WASHINGTON, December 11, 2009 – The Broadband Opportunity and Affordability Act, which would direct the Federal Communications Commission to expand the Universal Service Fund’s Lifeline program to support broadband service, as well as explore programs to subsidize computer ownership for low-income Americans, was introduced in the Senate late Friday with bipartisan support from members of the Senate Commerce Committee.
The bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission to implement a two year pilot program under which the Universl Service Fund Life Line program would be expanded to pay for broadband services to low-income Americans. The pilot program would be required to be technology neutral and could also require states to pay matching funds in order to participate.
The bill, which is sponsored by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller, D-W.V., and Ranking Member Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, also directs the FCC to study whether the USF-funded Link Up program could reduce the cost of broadband by subsidizing computer ownership.
The Commission would conduct the study through a notice of inqury to determine the types of equipment to be supported by such a program, the amount of funding available, and eligibility requirements.
The FCC’s data on the Life Line pilot and the Link Up study would be due to be reported back to Congress, with the Life Line report study due within 18 months of the pilot’s implementation.
“Today, millions of low-income American families are left at a disadvantage because they cannot afford broadband Internet access or the necessary supporting computer equipment,” said Chairman Rockefeller.
“As more aspects of 21st century life become dependent upon Internet access, it is crucial we help to provide all families with the high-tech resources they need to succeed in the workplace and in school – and for the United States to continue to be a competitive, global economic leader.”
The BOAA, and similar legislation introduced in the House by Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Calif., come almost two years since former FCC Chairman Kevin Martin suggested a Life Line pilot, and 10 months since the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners endorsed the resolution at its February, 2009 meeting.
Nevertheless, NARUC President David Coen of Vermont said NARUC supports the Rockefeller-Hutchison bill:
We commend Sen. Rockefeller for introducing this bill and we look forward to working with the Senator, his staff, and other members of his committee on this important issue,” Coen said in a statement. “Expanding the Lifeline programs to include broadband will help ensure that all Americans have access to affordable and reliable advanced telecommunications services. Although we are still reviewing the legislation, it is clearly a step in the right direction.”