U.S. House Passes Landmark Broadband Legislation, Including Spanberger’s Amendment to Improve Internet Connectivity Speeds

House-Passed infrastructure Legislation Includes Historic Investment in Broadband Deployment, E-Rate Program that the Congresswoman Pushed For During the COVID-19 Pandemic

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. House of Representatives today voted to pass infrastructure-focused legislation that includes U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger’s priorities to expand high-speed internet access across the country, as well as her amendment to ensure that new broadband networks are built to provide customers with sufficient upload and download speeds.

The House-passed Moving America Forward Act includes the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, which Spanberger helped introduce last weekThis broadband-focused bill 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 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. 

“Infrastructure is more than bridges, roads, and tunnels — it’s also the physical infrastructure that allows our students, businesses, and communities to connect to the internet. In Central Virginia, like across so much of the country, we urgently need funding for broadband projects — particularly as COVID-19 lays bare the realities of the digital divide. For example, I’ve heard from Central Virginia teachers who’ve been unable to remain in contact with many of their students following school closures, simply because their students can’t reliably access the internet,” said Spanberger. “The Moving America Forward Act includes a historic investment in high-speed broadband internet infrastructure, something I was sent to Congress to help advance. Access to broadband internet is an issue of economic and educational opportunity, and we can’t afford to leave Central Virginia’s rural communities behind in our national infrastructure conversation.”

According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, more than 25 percent of Virginians in rural areas lack access to high-speed internet. However, the percentage of Central Virginians without reliable broadband access could be much higher. Since 2015, the FCC’s broadband mapping data has relied on the same speed threshold to define whether an area can be said to have adequate broadband service. However, this threshold is already outdated due to new and emerging internet technologies — meaning Virginians who technically meet the current threshold could still lack the ability to connect to cutting-edge internet services.

To address this challenge, the Moving America Forward Act also includes Spanberger’s amendment to update broadband speed thresholds.

“If we’re going to keep our rural businesses, farms, and students competitive, we need to recognize that the broadband infrastructure we build must meet the need for faster downloads and uploads. My amendment would require the GAO to examine the efficacy of the FCC’s process for updating its broadband speed thresholds — and I’m proud to see it pass today as part of the Moving America Forward Act,” said Spanberger. “My amendment would examine the efficacy of the FCC’s process for updating these thresholds — and with this information, we can make better decisions about how best to invest in broadband infrastructure and meet the need for faster speeds.”

Spanberger’s amendment would require the Government Accountability Office to conduct an evaluation and write a report on the efficacy of the FCC’s existing process for establishing, reviewing, and updating its speed thresholds for broadband service.

The Moving America Forward Act 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.

BACKGROUND

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. These priorities are reflected in the legislation passed today in the U.S. House.

The Moving America Forward Act 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.

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