WASHINGTON, June 5, 2013 – On Tuesday evening, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, kicked off the new debate on the Senate’s consideration of the farm bill when the chamber returns to session on Thursday morning. A number of amendments proposed to the measure impact broadband in rural areas..
An amendment by Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., would clarify a provision of existing law dealing with access to broadband services on tribal trust land, trust allotted land, and non-Indian fee land within reservation boundaries.
One amendment that would establish a pilot program for creating gigabit-speed internet projects in rural regions was proposed by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT. Another amendment by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., would require the Rural Utilities Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture to ensure that its grants and loans provide broadband access to rural areas that do not already have it.
An amendment proposed by Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, would modify a provision in the farm bill related to broadband telecommunications access in rural areas. Additionally, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., proposed an amendment to improve the gathering of broadband build-out data.
Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, proposed an amendment that would require the Government Accountability Office to produce annual report over the next five years on the effectiveness of reforms implemented by the Federal Communications Commission to promote access and affordability. Under the measure, the GAO would conduct a data-based evaluation of the Universal Service Fund and intercarrier compensation charges. The report would have to measurements and statistics demonstrating the effects on consumers, prices, and incentives for network investment.
The reports would focus specifically on the effects of the reforms on retail rates for voice and broadband services, average fixed and mobile broadband internet speeds available to both residential and business consumers, users’ access to and adoption of broadband, state universal service funds, and carrier of last resort requirements. Additionally, GAO will assess the progress in the implementation of the 2011 USF reform order and the amount and pace of investments in broadband networks following the enactment of those reforms. These investments are to include those financed by the Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service telecommunication programs.
The comptroller general of the GAO would also be directed to direct special attention to any disparities between rural and urban areas in terms of these criteria.