WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the COVID-19 pandemic highlights internet connectivity disparities in Central Virginia and across the country, U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger — a Member of the Rural Broadband Task Force — today helped introduce a landmark piece of legislation to expand high-speed broadband internet access.
The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act includes Spanberger’s priorities to allocate significant funds to 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 Federal Communications Commission’s (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. Spanberger first helped introduce and pass the package in June 2020.
This legislation also includes Spanberger’s bipartisan Speedy Updates Act, reintroduced this week, to require the Government Accountability Office to conduct an evaluation and write a report on the efficacy of the FCC’s existing process for updating its speed thresholds for broadband service.
“The COVID-19 crisis shed additional light on the clear need for reliable high-speed internet access. A lack of broadband connectivity impacts the ability of students to complete assignments at home, businesses to recruit and hire new employees, and farmers to take advantage of the latest ag technologies. Since my first year in Congress, I’ve been proud to serve as a Member of the Rural Broadband Task Force to make sure that Congress responds to the concerns of rural communities and recognizes the need for major broadband investment in any nationwide infrastructure package,” said Spanberger. “This legislation meets the urgency of the moment and includes historic investments in expanded broadband internet access — including strong E-Rate funding and a historic investment in broadband deployment in rural and underserved communities, like many in the Seventh District. I’d like to thank Rep. Clyburn for his continued leadership on our Task Force as we work to close the digital divide both in Central Virginia and across the county.”
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 $2 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:
- 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 an additional $6 billion to the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program that has provided $50 monthly discount on plans for low-income consumers struggling to afford internet during the pandemic, 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 $1.2 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 $2 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).
Click here to read the full bill text.
According to the FCC’s 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, nearly 25 percent of rural Virginians lack access to reliable high-speed internet, compared to two percent of Virginians living in cities.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, 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 FCC’s E-Rate program in coronavirus emergency relief 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.
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. Near the end of 2019, Spanberger successfully led the fight to protect ReConnect funding from elimination, and in 2020, she worked to strengthen funding for the program in the fiscal year 2021 funding deal signed into law by President Donald Trump.
This legislation builds on Spanberger’s efforts to close the digital divide in the Seventh District’s rural communities. 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. 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.