Legislation created and introduced by Rep. Abigail Spanberger, designed to ensure that new internet broadband networks are built to provide customers with sufficient upload and download speeds, passed the House of Representatives as an amendment this month.
The House bill will expand high-speed internet access across the country, and includes Spanberger’s Accessible, Affordable Internet For All Act, which she introduced in late June. It includes funding for strengthening broadband connectivity in central Virginia, something Spanberger says will help address digital inequities based on geography, race and socioeconomic barriers.
Issues with internet connectivity have taken center stage this year as schools transitioned to online learning and workplaces encouraged employees to work from home when possible.
The new legislation passed by the House would also expand the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate program, which increases wireless service to existing school devices and hotspots for students who don’t have 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 in a statement.
Spanberger went on to say that the new legislation will create a historic investment in high-speed broadband infrastructure.
“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,” she said.
According to the 2019 Broadband Deployment Report from the FCC, more than 25% of Virginians in rural areas lack access to high-speed internet. And the number of Virginians without reliable broadband access is expected to be much higher.
Since 2015, the FCC’s data has relied on the same speed threshold to define whether an area is considered to have sufficient broadband service, but this threshold is outdated, according to Spanberger’s office. This means that Virginians who technically meet the current threshold for internet speed and reliability in reality lack the ability to connect to internet services that are commonplace in more populated areas.
“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,” 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.”
The act passed by the House would also provide an additional $80 billion for broadband deployment especially in underserved areas. Spanberger’s amendment will provide $5 billion for additional laptops, tablets and increased mobile hotspot lending capabilities in rural areas among other provisions.