Wicker, Capito, Blackburn Introduce Bill to Accelerate Deployment of Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Broadband Networks

June 22, 2020

U.S. Sens. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., today released the following statements upon introduction of the Accelerating Broadband Connectivity (ABC) Act of 2020. This legislation would expedite the deployment of broadband service by creating a fund to be used by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to incentivize winning bidders of the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction to complete their buildout obligations on a shorter timeline.

“One of my top priorities is expanding access to broadband for communities of all sizes,” said Wicker. “The coronavirus pandemic has further underscored this pressing need, and I hope our legislation will advance quickly to meet the connectivity needs of Americans living in rural areas, including many in my home state of Mississippi.”

“High-speed internet service is essential in the 21st century,” said Capito. “West Virginia communities need access to this invaluable tool in order to provide opportunity to and educate the next generation. They also need this connectivity quickly. We have made significant progress in expanding broadband infrastructure through my Capito Connect plan and local efforts, but a lot of work remains to be done. Our legislation is another policy solution supporting broadband deployment in rural, underserved communities. By incentivizing accelerated broadband deployment projects, we can not only connect our communities, but do so quickly.”

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the move to online work, schooling, and healthcare has put a spotlight on the divide between communities with internet access and those without it,” said Blackburn. “The ABC Fund will bring broadband to unserved communities with the urgency it requires so that all communities are up to speed with 21st century internet access.”

The Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act would:

  • Create a fund to be used by the FCC following the RDOF Phase I auction to incentivize winning bidders to complete their buildout obligations on an accelerated timeline;
  • Build upon the existing RDOF process to get high-speed broadband service to rural consumers much faster than the current timetable for deployment using RDOF dollars;
  • Require service providers who receive funds from the Accelerating Broadband Connectivity (ABC) Fund to meet a series of accelerated milestones for their RDOF deployments;
  • Allow the FCC to conduct the auction in a way that maximizes value to American taxpayers while connecting consumers more quickly.

Click here to read the bill.

NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom - The Broadband Association, and the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association have endorsed the ABC Act.

“NTCA greatly appreciates Senator Wicker’s ongoing interest in advancing efforts to deploy broadband in rural America,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA - The Rural Broadband Association. “The ‘Accelerating Broadband Connectivity Act’ would provide financial incentives for those prevailing in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund Auction to deploy networks and activate services more expeditiously across rural America. On behalf of the NTCA members who have led the charge to date in deploying robust broadband-capable networks in rural areas, we welcome this focus on how to deliver as quickly as possible on the promise of broadband in areas still lacking access, and we look forward to continuing to work with Senator Wicker and his colleagues as Congress considers initiatives to expand and sustain broadband deployment across America.”

“Senator Wicker’s legislation strengthens the landmark Rural Digital Opportunity Fund in meaningful and innovative ways. First, it adds essential funding to the program that will bring high-speed broadband to unserved parts of rural America,” said Jonathan Spalter, President and CEO of USTelecom – The Broadband Association. “Second, it creates new incentives to accelerate the construction of broadband infrastructure – something that matters more than anything if you live in a community still lacking connectivity. Finishing the job of connecting all Americans requires a partnership with Washington and bolstering and expediting RDOF is a smart and achievable place to start. Let’s not wait much longer to get this technology to the families, businesses, patients and students that need it the most.”

“This bill will help even more rural Americans get the Internet,” said Claude Aiken, President and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association. “We want to thank Chairman Wicker for his dedicated leadership on this integral matter – one which will accommodate today’s exigencies and work to comprehensively expand broadband deployment in unserved areas.”