WASHINGTON, D.C. – A bipartisan majority of the U.S. House of Representatives yesterday voted to pass several provisions backed by U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger to close the digital divide, provide up-to-date information about internet access disparities, and address broadband internet inequities that have been laid bare during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bipartisan bill passed in the U.S. House yesterday includes strengthened funding for the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) broadband expansion efforts, including new funding to improve the accuracy of broadband maps. Currently, the FCC generates maps highlighting which geographic areas have broadband internet access. These maps — based on Census tract data — are used to award funding and subsidies for broadband expansion. However, these maps are widely viewed as inaccurate and unreliable — and these errors could leave many communities ineligible for federal support for much-needed broadband infrastructure.
Additionally, the legislation requires the U.S. Department of Education to produce a detailed plan of action for helping schools address issues facing students who are unable to access e-learning during COVID-19-related closures. In March 2020, after hearing the concerns of Central Virginia parents, teachers, and administrators, Spanberger led the effort calling on Congress to pass this requirement.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has made addressing the digital divide an even more pressing issue in Central Virginia. Families, businesses, schools, and farms all feel the sting of unreliable high-speed internet access, and particularly when we face such widespread economic uncertainty, we are putting these communities at a severe disadvantage if we don’t take steps to pinpoint the areas that lack connectivity — and then commit to delivering results,” said Spanberger. “I’ve long said that the FCC’s maps need to be improved, and this legislation puts pressure on the FCC to fix its outdated maps. Additionally, this legislation recognizes the immediate needs of students as they struggle to maintain internet access and keep up with lessons and homework. As negotiations continue about delivering relief to the American people in the face of the ongoing pandemic, we must take steps that keep our communities connected and our families safe.”
Additionally, the bill passed in the U.S. House yesterday includes $61 million in emergency funding for the FCC to expand availability of broadband internet to underserved areas, as well as funding for the replacement of telecommunications equipment deemed to pose a national security threat to the United States.
The legislation passed yesterday in the U.S. House includes additional items Spanberger fought to secure for Central Virginia’s workforce training, healthcare, and energy development priorities, including:
- Strengthening federal support for career and technical education. The legislation includes an $18 million increase from fiscal year 2020 for improved coordination between career and technical education and adult education programs. In March 2020, Spanberger led the effort calling for these provisions to be included in the legislation.
- Strengthening the Strategic National Stockpile. The U.S. House-passed legislation includes report language instructing BARDA to engage in public-private partnerships for U.S.-based advanced manufacturing for active pharmaceutical ingredients and their chemical precursors for the Strategic National Stockpile, reducing our reliance on foreign-based suppliers, building on research being done at VCU and other universities across the nation.
- Improving healthcare research impacting Central Virginia moms. The legislation passed yesterday in the U.S. House urges a continued focus on National Institutes of Health-funded research at VCU on the human microbiome and its impact on female reproductive health. Spanberger worked directly with congressional leaders to secure this provision.
- Supporting local energy storage initiatives. The legislation also includes $205 million for energy storage research, design, and development. This investment would include the creation of a new pilot program to help rural co-operatives in Central Virginia and across the country deploy cost-effective energy storage across multiple service areas. Spanberger led a bipartisan effort calling for this pilot program.
Yesterday’s vote builds on Spanberger’s work to improve the FCC’s broadband mapping data. In April 2019, the U.S. House passed Spanberger’s amendment to improve the FCC’s data. And earlier this year, Spanberger and U.S. Representative A. Donald McEachin (D-VA-04) brought FCC Commissioner Geoffrey Starks to Virginia to meet with community leaders and discuss the broadband mapping issue.
In August 2019, Spanberger hosted her 2019 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.