Although the government has pledged to help expand high-speed broadband access in communities that need it, officials need to expand the eligibility criteria, according to Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR). President Joe Biden the American Rescue Plan Act into law in March. It directs the Treasury Department to distribute billions of dollars in stimulus funding to local and state governments.
Those funds can be used to improve broadband access, but the bill severely limits the eligibility criteria for such projects. The bill says that only unserved or underserved communities can use the federal funding to improve broadband access, as notes. According to the Federal Communications Commission, communities with internet speeds and 3 Mbps up are underserved. That definition has remained the same since 2015.
Wyden says those speeds are not nearly fast enough for current needs, calling that benchmark “woefully outdated.” He wants communities where speeds are less than 100 Mbps up and down to be classed as underserved and to be eligible for upgraded internet infrastructure under this plan.
The mass adoption of video calling, streaming, and other bandwidth-intensive apps by Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic has made it clear that miserly speeds and data caps are holding back telework, remote education and telehealth capacity, Wyden wrote in a letter to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen. Simply put, it is not possible for a family of four to telework and engage in remote schooling while sharing 3 Mbps of upload bandwidth.
Wyden went on to argue that a failure to address concerns will further expand the digital divide and jeopardize our ability as a nation to build back better from the COVID-19 pandemic. Therefore, as you finalize the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds Final Rule, I urge [Yellen] to clarify that underserved locations include anywhere affordable, reliable broadband of at least 100 Mbps symmetric is not available.” Wyden added that “to be accessible, broadband must also be affordable.”
Other lawmakers have been pushing the FCC to upgrade the definition of high-speed broadband to 100 Mbps up and down. Earlier this month, California announced a budget plan that , noting that “service at speeds below 100 Mbps is not enough for households who are juggling the demands of distance learning, telework, and accessing health care online.”
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