HENRICO, V.A. – As the COVID-19 pandemic sheds light on internet connectivity disparities in rural America, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger — a Member of the Rural Broadband Task Force — today helped lead the introduction of a landmark piece of legislation to expand high-speed broadband internet access in Central Virginia and across the country.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Spanberger has worked to bring immediate solutions to students, parents, Main Street businesses, and schools struggling to access high-speed internet during the crisis. In April 2020, Spanberger led 46 of her colleagues in calling for robust funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) E-Rate program in upcoming coronavirus emergency packages. Later that month, Spanberger also led a bipartisan group of 73 of her U.S. House colleagues in urging Congress to prioritize a historic investment in high-speed internet projects in any upcoming congressional infrastructure package.
The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act includes Spanberger’s priorities to provide once-in-a-generation funding toward strengthening broadband connectivity in Central Virginia’s rural and underserved areas, while also addressing digital inequities based on geography, race, and socioeconomic barriers. Additionally, the legislation would expand the FCC’s E-Rate program to increase wireless service to existing school devices, as well as to hotspots for students who lack internet access at home.
“Access to reliable high-speed internet is fundamentally an issue of opportunity. A lack of broadband connectivity hurts the ability of students to complete their homework, businesses to recruit and hire new employees, and farmers to take advantage of the latest ag technologies,” said Spanberger. “During my first term in the U.S. House, I’ve repeatedly met with Central Virginians who’ve expressed the urgent need for expanded internet access in their communities, whether at town halls, at community roundtables, or at my Rural Broadband Summit. I’ve been proud to serve as a Member of the Rural Broadband Task Force to make sure Congress hears their concerns and recognizes the pressing need for broadband investment in any nationwide infrastructure package. This landmark legislation includes major wins for the Seventh District — including expanded E-Rate funding and a strong investment in broadband deployment in rural and underserved areas, like those in many of the Seventh District’s counties. I’d like to thank Rep. Clyburn for his leadership on our Task Force, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in both parties as we work together to close the digital divide.”
Specifically, the legislation would provide an additional $80 billion for broadband deployment in underserved areas and for states to implement statewide systems of competitive bidding for deployment. Additionally, the Spanberger-cosponsored bill would provide an additional $5 billion to expand the E-Rate program to include funding for wired and wireless home broadband connections, additional laptops and tablets for rural students, and increased mobile hotspot-lending capabilities for schools and libraries. And to further expand internet options for students, the legislation would require the FCC to make Wi-Fi access on school buses eligible for E-Rate funding.
The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would do the following:
- Encourage Universal Broadband Access by:
- Including $80 billion to deploy broadband infrastructure nationwide,
- Allocating $5 billion for low-interest financing of broadband deployment through a new secured loan program, and
- Establishing a new office within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to ensure efficient use of federal money.
- Ensure Internet Affordability by:
- Requiring an affordable option for internet service plans offered on the newly-built infrastructure,
- Providing a $50 monthly discount on plans for low-income consumers, and
- Directing the FCC to collect and publicize data on prices charged for broadband service throughout the country.
- Promote Internet Adoption by:
- Providing more than $1 billion to establish grant programs for states to close gaps in broadband adoption, as well as digital inclusion projects for organizations and local communities to implement,
- Including $5 billion to enable students without internet at home to participate in remote learning, and
- Authorizing funding for Wi-Fi on school buses so students can stay connected, especially in rural areas where longer bus rides are common.
The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is led by House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC-06) and co-led by U.S. Representatives Frank Pallone (D-NJ-06), Mike Doyle (D-PA-18), Axne (D-IA-03), Sanford D. Bishop Jr. (D-GA-02), Anthony Brindisi (D-NY-22), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC-01), T.J. Cox (D-CA-21), Angie Craig (D-MN-02), Joe Cunningham (D-SC-01), Antonio Delgado (D-NY-19), Abby Finkenauer (D-IA-01), Jared Golden (D-ME-02), Ro Khanna (D-CA-17), Ron Kind (D-WI-03), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH-02), Loebsack (D-IA-02), Tom Malinowski (D-NJ-07), Grace Meng (D-NY-06), Joe Morelle (D-NY-25), Pocan (D-WI-02), Terri Sewell (D-AL-07), David Trone (D-MD-06), Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14), Peter Welch (D-VT-AL), Anna Eshoo (D-CA-18), Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM-03), Jerry McNerney (D-CA-09), and Paul Tonko (D-NY-20).
Click here to read the full bill text.
According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, more than 25 percent of Virginians in rural areas lack access to reliable high-speed internet.
Today’s legislation builds on Spanberger’s efforts to close the digital divide in the Seventh District’s rural communities. In February 2020, Spanberger announced $28 million in federal funding for high-speed broadband internet infrastructure projects in Central Virginia —including in Louisa, Orange, Goochland, and Powhatan Counties — through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect program. Last year, Spanberger successfully led the fight to protect ReConnect funding from elimination.
Since arriving in the U.S. House, she has worked to expand high-speed broadband internet access across Central Virginia’s rural areas, including by:
- Bringing awareness to the issue of rural broadband access. In August 2019, Spanberger hosted her Rural Broadband Summit in Louisa County to hear about how a lack of reliable broadband internet access is impacting families, farmers, first responders, and small business owners across Central Virginia.
- Amplifying and collecting the stories of Central Virginians. Spanberger has collected and amplified the stories of Central Virginians who are currently facing unnecessary challenges due to the absence of broadband internet in their community. Last year, she collected these stories through her 2019 Rural Broadband Survey, in which she asked Central Virginians to describe how a lack of reliable broadband access has personally impacted them, their families, or their businesses.
- Bringing the eConnectivity concerns of Central Virginians directly to USDA leadership. During her first House Agriculture Committee hearing, Spanberger asked USDA Secretary Perdue about his thoughts on expanding rural broadband. Spanberger also invited Secretary Perdue to visit her district to hear directly from Central Virginia farmers and dairy producers, and get their feedback on current USDA policies and 2018 Farm Bill implementation. Click here for a full video of her remarks.
- Working with colleagues to find common ground on rural broadband policy. Last year, Spanberger announced her appointment to the Rural Broadband Task Force, which provides coordination and leadership to increase investment in rural broadband internet infrastructure across the United States. And as Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition’s rural opportunity task force, she co-authored a Fox News op-ed last year to highlight the need to pursue smart, bipartisan rural broadband infrastructure policies.