House OKs Spanberger idea for better broadband

CULPEPER STAR EXPONENT, CLINT SCHEMMER

The Federal Communications Commission is a step closer to getting independent advice on how the U.S. government can more effectively distribute grants and subsidies to bolster rural broadband access to the internet.

That’s due to passage Wednesday by the U.S. House of Representatives of an amendment authored by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, R-7th. If enacted, it would strengthen efforts to identify what rural communities are eligible for help with developing their broadband infrastructure.

Spanberger’s proposed amendment to the Save the Internet Act of 2019 would require the Government Accountability Office to examine the accuracy of FCC mapping of the nation’s broadband coverage. Those maps, used to award funding to expand broadband, have been found to be inaccurate and unreliable. Their errors leave many rural communities ineligible for federal money to improve internet access.

The proposal, which passed the House by voice vote, is the second amendment by Spanberger to be approved by that chamber of Congress. The first was her legislation to improve the integrity of U.S. elections and mitigate foreign threats to the nation’s election infrastructure, which was made part of H.R. 1, House Democrats’ comprehensive reform package, the wide-ranging For the People Act.

For Spanberger’s broadband proposal to succeed would require the Senate to approve net-neutrality legislation passed by the House. Spanberger is urging senators to do that.

On Wednesday, she spoke on the House floor to ask her colleagues to support the amendment.

“The digital gap between our rural and urban communities is real, and I hear about it from the people I serve every day,” Spanberger said. “In Central Virginia, farmers and producers are disadvantaged, because the lack of broadband makes doing business harder. In our district, constituents driving their kids to a McDonald’s or to neighboring counties so that they can complete their research projects for school. And what’s happening in our district is happening nationwide.”

Under her proposal, the GAO would recommend how the FCC can produce more accurate, reliable and detailed maps of broadband coverage. The watchdog agency’s report also would identify FCC programs that rely on such maps and would benefit from better accuracy.

Now, such a map often will claim an entire area is covered by high-speed broadband when only a small portion of the area has reliable coverage, leaving many rural families underserved, she said.

“Erroneous information in these maps could be the difference between a senior citizen being able to access lifesaving telemedicine services or not,” Spanberger told fellow legislators. “It could be the difference between whether a farmer can keep up with market fluctuations halfway across the world or not. And it could control the ability of a young, aspiring student to access online information, college applications, and research materials.”

“Better maps of broadband coverage are a critical first step towards getting high-speed internet to every household—something we should aim to do in our globalized, digitally-focused economy,” she said.

Improving rural broadband access is a signature issue for Spanberger, who campaigned on it during her successful challenge to Rep. David Brat in the 2018 midterm elections.

In an interview Monday, she said broadband and health care are the two topics she hears about most frequently from her constituents.

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