Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., and Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced a $94 billion Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act in the House and Senate, respectively. The bill also has the support of Clyburn’s Rural Broadband Task Force, composed of 27 House Democrats.
The bulk of the bill’s funding would go towards providing high-speed internet access nationwide, with $80 billion earmarked for expanding access to underserved rural, suburban, and urban areas. The bill would also require all internet service providers (ISP) that build networks using those funds to provide an affordable plan.
“Access to broadband today will have the same dramatic impact on rural communities as the rural electrification efforts in the last century,” Clyburn said in a press release. “When I formed the Rural Broadband Task Force, our mission was to address the digital divide. The disparate effects of that divide have been amplified during the COVID-19 pandemic and exposed the urgency of ensuring universal access to high-speed internet. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to enact the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.”
The bill also includes another $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit program established in the 2021 omnibus bill passed late last year. That bill appropriated $3.2 billion in funds for the program so this bill would add almost double that initial investment. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently voted to officially establish the program.
This bill would also add more funding for the recently established Emergency Connectivity Fund for remote learning – which got $7.17 billion in funding through its creation in the latest stimulus bill – by adding another $2 billion to the fund through the E-Rate program. The bill would authorize the FCC to change its rules to allow for the E-rate program funding to be used to put Wi-Fi on school buses.
“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for all Americans. In 2021, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America – regardless of their zip code. This legislation will help bridge the digital divide once and for all,” Klobuchar said.
Other features of the bill include reserving the rights of local governments and public-private partnerships to deliver broadband, directing the FCC to collect and publish pricing data, and the authorization of a biennial study from the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth on cost barriers to internet access.