The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, introduced in the House of Representatives yesterday, would make over $100 billion available for broadband initiatives. The majority of the funding — $80 billion – would go toward building broadband infrastructure, primarily rural infrastructure.
The bill, introduced by Representative James Clyburn (D-S.C.), is the latest in a flurry of broadband legislation introduced in the House and Senate in recent weeks. A spokesperson for Representative Clyburn confirmed that the legislation is the same as what’s included in HR2, the Moving Forward Act, which was introduced earlier this week. That bill would dedicate a total of $1.5 trillion toward a wide range of infrastructure investment and would include $100 billion for broadband.
Clyburn and the Rural Broadband Task Force “worked closely with the Speaker’s office and the Energy and Commerce Committee to get this over the finished line,” the spokesperson said in an email to Telecompetitor.
Of the $80 billion for rural broadband in the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, the majority (75%) would go toward broadband deployments in unserved and “low-tier” area. Unserved areas would include those lacking broadband service at symmetrical 25 Mbps speeds. Low-tier areas would be those with service available at speeds between 25/25 Mbps and 100/100 Mbps.
Funding would be awarded through a competitive bidding process.
The remaining 25% of the broadband infrastructure funding would be distributed among the states based on population and would also target unserved and low-tier service, as well as unserved anchor institutions (those with speeds less than 1 Gbps per 1,000 users.) This funding also would be awarded through a competitive bidding process, which would be run by the state.
For states that do not have unserved areas or areas with low-tier service, funding could be used for broadband deployment in areas with mid-tier service, defined as greater than symmetrical 100/100 Mbps service but less than symmetrical 1 Gbps service.
The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act also would create a Broadband Infrastructure Financing Innovation (BIFIA) program, to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), which would provide secured loans, lines of credit, and loan guarantees to state and local governments, public authorities, and public private partnerships for broadband infrastructure financing projects.
Five billion dollars would be allocated for the BIFIA program.
Digital Equity, Low-Income Programs
The remainder of the funding in the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act would go toward digital equity programs and broadband service for low-income consumers.
Among other things it would establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the NTIA, which would be responsible for “conducting outreach to communities in need of better access to, or adoption of, internet service, specifically through organizing regional workshops, trainings and publications to provide guidance and insights for these communities.”
The bill also includes $14.2 billion for low-income initiatives, including $9 billion for the Lifeline program, $5 billion for E-rate (schools and libraries) support for Wi-Fi hotspots and other equipment and $200 million to help states participate in the National Lifeline Eligibility Verifier. The $9 billion that would go toward the Lifeline program would be used to provide low-income households with a $50 monthly benefit toward internet service ($75 a month for households on tribal lands.)
The act also would repeal the FCC restrictions imposed on the Lifeline program in 2017.
Broadband Transparency, Community Broadband
As a section-by-section summary of the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act explains, the bill would require the FCC to adopt rules to collect data from service providers about broadband service plans and subscription rates. The commission also would be required to issue rules requiring broadband providers to disclose the pricing and terms of their service offerings.
In addition, the bill would prohibit state governments from enforcing laws or regulations that restrict local governments, public-private partnerships and cooperatives from delivering broadband service.
Finally, the bill would prevent the FCC from finalizing a proposed rule that would cap the Universal Service Fund program and it would create new “dig once” provisions.