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New Deal Rural Broadband Act Introduced in House of Representatives Aims to Close Digital Divide

Broadband Breakfast Staff

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Broadband Breakfast Insight: This is a significant development to see emerging from the House of Representatives, which is generally less focused on rural broadband issues than the Senate. This new measure, the “New Deal Rural Broadband Act,” has an array of items, but one significant part appears to be the authorization of the Rural Utility Service (RUS) offering broadband grants in addition to loans and loan guarantees. Stay tuned for more information about this initiative!

Reps. Huffman, Pocan, and Nolan Introduce New Deal Rural Broadband Act to Close Digital Divide in Rural America

WASHINGTON, February 2, 2017 – Congressmen Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Rick Nolan, D-Minnesota, introduced the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017, an ambitious plan to connect every American home, business, and school to high-speed, reliable broadband internet that is based on Roosevelt’s New Deal rural electrification model. The legislation would expand access to broadband internet in rural communities in Huffman’s North Coast congressional district, and across the nation, through increased investments in broadband infrastructure, improved programs to support tribal communities in broadband development, and the establishment of a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to better coordinate all Federal rural broadband deployment programs.

In 2016, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 39% of rural America and 41% of those living on Tribal land lacked access to advanced broadband, defined as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. By comparison, only 10% of the country as a whole lack access to advanced broadband.

“The longer we allow the digital divide to persist in rural America and Indian country, the more Americans will be left behind,” said Rep. Huffman. “The New Deal Broadband Act is an ambitious blueprint to connect every home, school, and business in America to high-speed, reliable broadband so we can all compete in the world economy. All Americans deserve the benefits of improved economic development, as well as expanded public safety, health, and education services. Our new legislation builds on the legacy and success of FDR’s New Deal to bring broadband access in rural America into the 21st century.”

“Rural America has waited long enough for high-speed broadband,”  Rep. Nolan said. “It’s a necessity required to start new businesses, create new good-paying jobs, help our small town rural economy grow, and modernize the education and health care services so essential to quality of life. I’m proud to join my colleague in introducing this legislation to connect tens

“Across our country, many people still lack basic and reliable access to the internet. Congress must work together to address the connectivity gap and ensure that communities, especially in rural America, are able to stay connected to the 21st Century economy,” said Rep. Pocan. “The New Deal Broadband Act is a comprehensive plan to address broadband connectivity across our nation and I am proud to introduce this bill with my colleagues Reps. Huffman and Nolan.”

“Current federal rural broadband policy is not favorable to California,” said Connie Stewart, Executive Director of the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University. “Of the more than 110 federally recognized tribes in the state, 84 do not qualify for RUS grant funding. We would like to thank Congress Huffman for his leadership in bringing a comprehensive federal rural broadband policy to life”

“The lack of access to broadband in rural America remains a major challenge. Incumbents have not really acted fast enough to closed the digital divide. Unless we solve this need, we create an even larger urban-rural economic gap. an even larger urban-rural economic gap,” said Tom West, Manager of the North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium. “ Rep. Huffman’s proposed broadband infrastructure investment would create new opportunities on the North Coast to ensure all homes, schools, and businesses have access to high-speed, reliable broadband.”

In January, Senate Democrats unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that included $20 billion in broadband infrastructure investment.

The New Deal Rural Broadband Act would:

  •          Establish a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to coordinate and centralize all Federal rural broadband programs;
  •          Authorize $20 billion for new broadband infrastructure focused on rural communities and those without adequate access;
  •          Authorize a new Tribal Broadband Assistance Program to support tribal communities in broadband deployment;
  •          Improve and modernize the Telecommunications Loan and Loan Guarantee Program to increase eligibility, allow greater flexibility, and break down federal agency broadband “silos”;
  •          Authorize the Rural Utility Service (RUS) to offer broadband grants in addition to loans and loan guarantees to provide small communities with the seed funds needed to compete in loan applications or develop commercially attractive proposals and increase overall (RUS) broadband investment from $25 million to $50 million annually; and
  •          Establish an inventory of Federal and State assets on which a broadband facility could be constructed and;
  •          Provide land management agencies with cooperative agreement and fee retention authority for telecommunications rights-of-way to leverage public lands for broadband deployment.

Source: Reps. Huffman, Pocan, and Nolan Introduce New Deal Rural Broadband Act to Close Digital Divide in Rural America | Congressman Jared Huffman

Broadband Breakfast is a decade-old news organization based in Washington that is building a community of interest around broadband policy and internet technology, with a particular focus on better broadband infrastructure, the politics of privacy and the regulation of social media. Learn more about Broadband Breakfast.

FCC

FCC Delays Auction of Citizens Broadband Radio Service Frequences in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic from Coronavirus

Broadband Breakfast Staff

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Seal of the Federal Communications Commission

Agency Changes Upcoming Auction 105 Schedule, Postpones Auction 106

Adjustments Made in Light of COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON, March 25, 2020—The Federal Communications Commission today announced schedule changes for Auction 105 as well as the postponement of Auction 106.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, these changes were deemed necessary in order to protect the health and safety of Commission staff and to allow parties additional time to prepare to
participate in Auctions 105 and 106.

“Many Americans have had to make tough decisions on how they do business in this rapidly changing environment, and the FCC is no different,” said agency Chairman Ajit Pai. “After consulting agency staff within the relevant Bureaus and Offices, we determined that it was in everyone’s best interest to make these changes. But we remain committed to holding the 3.5 GHz auction this summer and look forward to beginning this important mid-band auction in July.”

For Auction 105, involving the auction of Priority Access Licenses for the 3550-3650 MHz band, the short-form application (FCC Form 175) filing window will now open on April 23,
2020 at 12 p.m. EDT and will close on May 7 at 6 p.m. EDT. Upfront payments will be due June 19.

Bidding will begin on July 23. Interested parties should continue to monitor the Auction 105 website at www.fcc.gov/auction/105 for any future announcements regarding the auction schedule and other important auction information. To read the Auction 105 Public Notice, visit https://go.usa.gov/xdhf4.

The FCC is postponing indefinitely Auction 106, an auction of construction permits in the FM broadcast service that was scheduled to begin on April 28. Auction 106 applicants that
submitted upfront payments may obtain a refund of those deposits after submitting a written request. Additional processes are outlined in today’s Public Notice. A revised schedule will
be announced in a future public notice. To read the Auction 106 Public Notice, visit https://go.usa.gov/xdhfZ.

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Press Releases

Tech Freedom and Other Advocacy Groups Push Back Against Growing Pressure to Modify Section 230

Masha Abarinova

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WASHINGTON, July 11, 2019 – Pushing back against a growing group of critics on the right and the left, the pro-free-market pro-free-speech group Tech Freedom on Thursday released a set of seven principles and online resources designed to “guide conversation about amending Section 230.”

As the principles statement declares: “we value the balance between freely exchanging ideas, fostering innovation, and limiting harmful speech. Because this is an exceptionally delicate balance, Section 230 reform poses a substantial risk of failing to address policymakers’ concerns and harming the Internet overall.”

In its current form, Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act (and part of the 1996 Telecom Act) holds online content creators responsible for what they publish, while protecting third parties that generate this content from liability.

“Section 230 is the law that made today’s Internet possible. Without it, hosting user-generated content would be impossible. Today’s most popular social websites would never have taken off and the Internet would look basically like cable,” said Tech Freedom President Berin Szóka.

“Making Section 230 protections contingent upon approval of government bureaucrats would be a grave mistake. Regulation must evolve as the Internet evolves, but creating new government powers that would be subject to the whims of whichever party occupied the White House would be bad for all Americans,” said Kevin Glass, vice president of communications at National Taxpayers Union.

The statement also included expressions of support from Prof. Eric Goldman, Santa Clara University School of Law, Sharon Bradford Franklin, director of Surveillance & Cybersecurity Policy, New America’s Open Technology Institute, Emma Llanso, director of the Free Expression Project, Center for Democracy & Technology, Bartlett Cleland, president of the Innovation Economy Alliance, and others.

Some of Tech Freedom’s resources on free speech and Section 230 on its website, including:

  • An op-ed “Some conservatives need a First Amendment refresher”
  • A letter to AG Session “DOJ Inquiry re Tech Companies Bias is Misguided”
  • A blogpost “Reality Check for Trump and Republicans Crying ‘Bias’”!
  • Tech Freedom President Berin Szóka’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee on the filtering practices of social media platforms
  • A statement on the passage of SESTA
  • A statement on the takedown of Backpage and its implications for Section 230 and recent sex trafficking legislation
  • Tech Policy Podcast #226: The Fairness Doctrine: Next Generation
  • Tech Policy Podcast #214: Information Intermediaries in a Nutshell

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FCC

Federal Communications Commission Announces $169 Million in Rural Broadband Funding

Broadband Breakfast Staff

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WASHINGTON, June 10, 2019 – The Federal Communications Commission on Monday authorized $166.8 million in funding over the next decade to expand broadband to 60,850 unserved rural homes and businesses in 22 states. Providers will begin receiving funding this month. A map of the winning bids is available here.

This funding represents the second wave of support from last year’s successful Connect America Fund Phase II auction. The FCC authorized the first wave of funding in May, providing $111.6 million in funding over the next decade to expand service to 37,148 unserved homes and businesses in 12 states.

To date, the first two rounds of authorizations are providing $278.4 million over the next decade to expand service to 97,998 new locations.  Over the coming months, the FCC will be authorizing additional funding as it approves the final applications of the winning bidders from the auction.

“I’m pleased to announce that the second round of funding starts now for buildout of high-speed Internet service to 60,850 rural homes and businesses, which will bring them to the right side of the digital divide and give them access to the 21st-century opportunities that broadband offers,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“Providers will be deploying gigabit-speed connections to the majority of locations for which funding is being authorized today, while nearly 8,000 homes and small businesses on Tribal lands will be getting fixed broadband service for the first time,” he said.

Providers must build out to 40 percent of the assigned homes and businesses in the areas won in a state within three years.  Buildout must increase by 20 percent in each subsequent year, until complete buildout is reached at the end of the sixth year.

The Connect America Fund Phase II auction is part of a broader effort by the FCC to close the digital divide in rural America.

In addition to the funding that will be made available through this auction, the Commission recently provided 186 companies in 43 states $65.7 million in additional annual funding to upgrade broadband speeds in rural communities, and offered incentives for over 500 rural carriers to provide faster broadband to over 1 million rural homes and businesses.

Pai also announced his intention to create the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, which will provide $20.4 billion over the next decade to connect approximately four million rural homes and businesses to high-speed broadband, representing the FCC’s single biggest step yet to close the digital divide.

(Photo by Jim Bradley used with permission.)

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