— Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) is today introducing his Connect America Fund Accountability Act , which will require recipients of the FCC’s CAF broadband subsidies to provide additional information about their internet speed and latency testing. “This legislation institutes specific tools to hold providers accountable for accurate reporting while ensuring households and businesses throughout our rural communities have access to the broadband services required to compete in the 21st-century economy,” Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement.
— And keep an eye out — later this month, Collins plans to reintroduce his Gigabit Opportunity Act, which would create tax incentives for broadband investment in low-income areas, an aide tells MT.
Source: POLITICO Morning Tech [Emphsis Added]
Last week, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is launching its e-Connectivity program to deliver high-speed internet in rural America. Telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers, and municipalities may apply through USDA’s new “ReConnect Program” for up to $600 million in loans and grants.
Projects that are eligible for ReConnect Program funding will target rural areas with insufficient broadband service. Projects funded through this initiative must serve communities with fewer than 20,000 people with no broadband service or where service is slower than 10 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload.
USDA will make available $200 million in grants (applications are due by April 29), $200 million for loan and grant combinations (applications are due by May 29), and $200 million for low-interest loans (applications due by June 28). Projects that receive funding through the program will be required to create access speeds of up to 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload.
The funding for the USDA’s new rural broadband program originates from the Fiscal 2018 omnibus, the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2018. Congress passed the omnibus spending package in March 2018 with $600 million in new funding for rural broadband projects.
Source RCRC The Barbed Wire
— Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), one of several Democratic lawmakers mulling a 2020 presidential bid, thinks Democrats could “run on” and even “win on” wonky-but-important talk about issues like rural broadband. Klobuchar told The New Yorker that while the issue might not be on the radar for “most people in urban areas … a lot of parts of our rural countryside can’t even access cell-phone service, much less broadband.” But would that matter as a campaign issue in the age of Trump, who has not commented extensively on issues like broadband? Yes, says the Minnesota lawmaker, who adds that challengers “just have to meet him with facts” rather than going “down every rabbit hole with him.”
— Thinking tech, too: Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who represents parts of Silicon Valley, is taking a similar approach to tech jobs in rural America, as Nancy detailed in a Q&A for The Agenda last week. Khanna, who has taken his message on tech to rural communities in recent months, said that defining “American patriotism as future-oriented” is how Democrats can best counter Trump. “We have to have an answer for folks about how their communities are going to have economic mobility and jobs in the future,” he said. (Unlike Klobuchar, Khanna told Nancy he is not considering running in 2020.)
Senator Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), who is set to be Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in the 116th Congress, is standing by his proposal to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to fix its broadband mapping data. Senator Wicker announced last week he would push language in an upcoming spending bill that would require the FCC to consider the concerns of senators from rural states who argue the FCC’s mapping data misrepresents broadband coverage in rural America.
It is uncertain whether Congress will allow Senator Wicker’s language to pass, but the FCC is likely to heed the concerns of the incoming Chairman of the Committee with direct oversight of the Commission.
Microsoft President Brad Smith announced this week that Microsoft will lead a new effort to bring broadband to rural California. Smith announced in a press release that Microsoft is expanding its “Airband Initiative” into new states, including California. Through the Airband Initiative, Microsoft partners with internet service providers leveraging a mix of innovative broadband solutions, including TV white spaces, to deliver high-speed internet coverage for rural areas. Microsoft founded the program in 2017 with the goal to bring broadband to 2 million rural Americans without internet access.
Source RCRC Barbed Wire Newsletter
— Lawmakers are broadly receptive to concerns Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is raising about the accuracy of FCC broadband maps. But most are not ready to commit to supporting Wicker’s attempt to hitch language to the year-end government funding bill to force the FCC to revisit the mapping. Congress is looking to wrap up its final fiscal 2019 funding measure by Dec. 21, and John had reported last week that Wicker is pursuing the broadband amendment.
— Although Senate appropriator Jon Tester (D-Mont.) quickly endorsed the idea, others say they are still assessing. “Senator Wicker’s going to be the chairman of the Commerce Committee next year, and if I was the FCC, I’d be listening closely, and I would hope we could send a strong message and some ability to get the mapping to where it’s reliable,” Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), a senior appropriator and member of GOP leadership, told John on Tuesday. “It’s just so unbelievably unreliable.” Blunt said he would want to talk to Wicker about specifics but seemed potentially open to the right measure.
— Sen.Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), another appropriator, “still has concerns” about the FCC’s initial mapping aimed at determining eligibility for Mobility Fund subsidies, “but he looks forward to seeing how the challenge process may have improved the map,” a spokesman said when asked about a funding rider. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) will “certainly be reviewing the challenge process with my colleagues,” he told POLITICO in a statement. “The fact of the matter is we can’t just rely on carrier submitted data, which is why I supported mapping funds for NTIA in the appropriations package last spring.”
Source: POLITICO Morning Tech
— Bipartisan interest is growing on Capitol Hill in using a year-end funding bill to force the FCC to take stock of the accuracy of its broadband data. Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) is leading the effort, as John reported Thursday . “I’ll be very frank: I’m going to try to stick something on the spending bill to make the FCC take another look at this,” said Wicker, the likely incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee in the new year. He called the FCC’s mapping “fatally flawed.”
— And count Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in, too . Tester “would certainly be interested in addressing this issue during the appropriations process,” a spokeswoman said. Although Wicker has broad support in his frustrations, hitching an amendment could still be a heavy lift. Government funding expires Dec. 7, which gives Wicker and his allies little time to try to slip that in. Either way, Wicker tells John he plans to stay focused on his FCC frustrations as Commerce chair: “I would want to look at a way to get an accurate measurement so that we can distribute $4.5 billion in a way that’s meaningful.”
Source: POLITICO Morning Tech
— Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) joined Thursday to introduce a rural broadband bill, the ACCESS Rural America Act, aimed at helping small telecom companies escape certain Securities and Exchange Commission filing requirements. The legislation would raise the number of investors that prompts some of these obligations. “Unfortunately, rural telecom companies are getting hit with disclosure costs that were never intended for them,” said Baldwin.
Source: POLITICO Morning Tech