Bipartisan Bill Proposed for Oversight on Broadband Funds
WASHINGTON — There’s new proposed legislation to ensure the billions of infrastructure dollars flowing throughout the country to develop broadband internet actually create sustainable infrastructure.
Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced the bill Tuesday, legislation that would require the Federal Communications Commission to implement a vetting process for companies looking to use federal funds for building new broadband infrastructure.
This oversight will improve internet access in rural areas, said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association, which supports the bipartisan legislation.
There’s a reason broadband hasn’t reached the most rural parts of the United States: It’s hard, Bloomfield said, citing hurdles such as low service requests and the high cost of maintenance.
“Broadband is not one and done. You can’t just put it in the ground and walk away. The company has to maintain [it],” Bloomfield said in a recent interview.
She noted other obstacles, including companies previously awarded federal funds bowing out of contracts because they can’t provide the services previously promised. Other times the service isn’t as fast and reliable as advertised, and some customers in an area don’t get connected, she said.
“What about that customer?” Bloomfield said.
Those issues are appearing across the country, including in Capito’s home state of West Virginia, where local officials have raised the alarm.
“The discussions I had with them made it abundantly clear the FCC needs congressional direction to ensure taxpayer money is being used properly to fund broadband deployment in rural areas,” Capito said in a statement. “By verifying that providers can actually deliver on the promises made to bring high-speed internet to specific areas, we can maximize the influx of broadband dollars coming to West Virginia and move closer toward our goal of closing the digital divide in communities of all sizes across our state.”
There are new companies cropping up to provide this broadband infrastructure and this bill “is not to stifle innovation,” Bloomfield said.
“This oversight ensures companies have [a] track record of offering what they say they are going to offer,” she continued.
“In 2022, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every community in our country, regardless of their ZIP code,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “This bipartisan legislation will help Americans connect to work, school, health care and business opportunities by ensuring the companies that apply for federal funding to build out broadband infrastructure can get the job done. As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to close the digital divide and ensure families across our state can reliably access the high-speed internet they need.”