June 12, 2020 — A new bill introduced by Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-N.C., would get rid of a Federal Communications Commission restriction on which Internet Service Providers are eligible for the agency’s Universal Service Fund.
The Expanding Opportunities for Broadband Deployment Act would approve ISPs that are not allowed to receive USF funds. Currently, only Eligible Telecommunications Carriers (primarily small ISPs in rural areas) can receive the funds.
Butterfield’s bill would allow for more companies to apply, including larger, more experienced companies who do not fall under the current designation.
Butterfield said that the coronavirus had laid bare the country’s existing broadband gaps and that this move was a necessary one.
“My bill, the Expanding Opportunities for Broadband Deployment Act, will ensure that affordable broadband is quickly and efficiently deployed to unserved households while closing the digital divide for low-income households at this critical moment in our Nation's history,” he said.
NCTA, The Internet and Television Association, praised the move. On Thursday, NCTA CEO Michael Powell called closing the digital divide “an urgent national priority” and said that Butterfield’s bill would effectively serve the communities most in need of service.
“With Congress considering new strategies to advance access and adoption of broadband across America, now is the time to remove antiquated and unnecessary barriers that deter ISPs from delivering broadband service to every citizen,” he said.
The NCTA has been pushing for a reform of the USF’s Lifeline subsidy for years. In 2015, they said that the eligibility process was inefficient and needed streamlining.
Butterfield said that for many, broadband is far too expensive, if it is even available. The passage of this legislation would be a crucial step toward closing the digital divide for good, he claimed.
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