BBWN Bites: DC Dems propose $94B broadband bill
Also in this roundup: Community Broadband Act seeks to bolster municipal Internet projects; Web inventor calls for getting disconnected young people online; CityFibre identifies remaining cities and towns for nationwide UK fiber rollout.
- Democrats in the US House and Senate on Thursday introduced a $94 billion broadband bill aimed at bridging the digital divide. Written largely by Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), with support from 30 Democratic Congressional colleagues, the bill's largest chunk is $80 billion to deploy high-speed broadband infrastructure nationwide. The rest includes $6 billion for the new Emergency Broadband Connectivity Fund; $5 billion over five years for low-interest financing of broadband deployment; $2 billion for remote learning services for students without Internet at home; and $1 billion for state grant programs to close adoption gaps and create digital inclusion projects. The $94 billion broadband proposal – called the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act – follows the passage this week of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which includes $7.17 billion for schools and libraries to help people get Internet access at home. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is based on legislation that passed the House of Representatives last year but then stalled in the Republican-controlled Senate. While Democrats now hold the slimmest senate majority, it's unclear if (and unlikely that...) this or any bill could pass as long as the senate filibuster rule requiring 60 votes for passage remains in place. (Notably, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, recently came out in favor of abolishing the filibuster, which could indeed be essential to ending the country's digital divide.)
- A second bill introduced by Democrats in Congress this week would tackle the digital divide from another angle. The Community Broadband Act, introduced by Reps. Anna G. Eshoo (D-CA), Jared Golden (D-ME) and Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), would remove roadblocks for public-private partnerships and locally owned broadband entities to empower communities to provide broadband access for their residents. Currently, 19 states have passed laws that restrict or prohibit localities from investing in building broadband networks. "Our bill will help give local governments the necessary flexibility to meet the needs of their residents by removing onerous barriers to creating more municipal broadband networks and expand access to the internet for every community," said Sen. Booker in a press release. Alas, should it pass the House, this bill faces the same aforementioned filibuster hurdles in the Senate.
- In a blog post this week, web inventor Tim Berners-Lee and Web Foundation co-founder Rosemary Leith are urging leaders to scale up investment in network infrastructure in the interest of bringing all the world's young people online. With a third of all young people lacking Internet access, and a greater number unable to afford services or devices necessary to get online, the authors urge that the world is at risk of letting the next generation fall through the cracks without significant investment in ending the digital divide, which is not only a crisis for those left out but for the world at large. "It's estimated that a 10% increase in the number of people online translates to a 2% lift in an economy's GDP, and new analysis finds that achieving universal broadband in the developing world by 2030 would deliver around $8.7 trillion in direct economic benefits," write Berners-Lee and Leith. The authors cite Web Foundation research showing that it would take $428 billion over ten years to provide everyone a "quality broadband connection."
- UK fiber provider CityFibre touted several network builds this week, with projects kicking off or progressing in Blackpool, Glasgow, Cheltenham, Peterborough, Preston and Thames Valley. The fiber builds are part of CityFibre's £4 billion (US$5.6 billion) Gigabit City Investment Programme, through which it aims to bring full-fiber connectivity within reach of up to 8 million homes across the UK. (CityFibre notes that FTTP is available to less than 20% of premises across the UK.) Furthermore, the company announced today that it has identified 216 additional towns and villages to complete its nationwide rollout plan. "These new rollouts will reach in excess of 3 million homes and represent more than £1.5 billion in private investment," it said in a press release. "The nationwide build programme is expected to be substantially completed by 2025 and will address approximately a third of the UK market including up to 8 million homes, 800,000 businesses, 400,000 public sector sites and 250,000 5G access points. This will make it the largest independent Full Fibre platform in the country."
— Nicole Ferraro, contributing editor, Light Reading
Here's where you can find episode links for 'The Divide,' Light Reading's podcast series featuring conversations with broadband providers and policymakers working to close the digital divide.
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