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house Bill H.R. 3994

Should an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth Coordinate Federal Broadband Resources?

Argument in favor

High-speed internet is essential in today’s world. Access to jobs, education, healthcare services, and more depends on access to the internet at a reasonable speed and this bill brings rural America up to speed by streamlining access to federal broadband resources.

Frances's Opinion
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07/22/2018
RURAL COMMUNITIES NEED TO HAVE THIS ACCESS TO THE INTERNET.
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Myles's Opinion
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07/23/2018
I have a hard time trusting the federal government to get it right, but access to information is as vital today as access to clean water and reliable electricity. (Despite that being something our government can’t seem to do right now in Flint, MI or Puerto Rico). I blame the current administration for that, not government as a whole.
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Leo's Opinion
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07/22/2018
Information is power. Access can empower otherwise isolated communities.
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Argument opposed

Federal efforts to expand rural broadband access simply don’t work, and the cost of expanding broadband to some rural areas is too high to justify the cost to the government. Additionally, there are already private sector efforts to bring broadband to rural areas.

Santiago's Opinion
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07/23/2018
Federal efforts to expand rural broadband access simply don’t work, and the cost of expanding broadband to some rural areas is too high to justify the cost to the government. Additionally, there are already private sector efforts to bring broadband to rural areas. Keep the bloated federal government out of the private sector.
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KyleCorley's Opinion
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07/23/2018
Having the federal government involved in expanding broadband services in rural areas is too costly and something state governments should be in charge of doing to make their state more attractive to individuals who are seeking to more due do to jobs or going to school.
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jimsander's Opinion
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07/24/2018
Let monopolistic telecommunications providers eat the cost of dealing with 50 individual state policies for a while and they’ll beg to return to Federal oversight. Technology will run them over long term anyway. “Dumb pipe” is the only future they have, and good riddance to them.
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What is House Bill H.R. 3994?

This bill — known as the ACCESS BROADBAND Act — would require the Dept. of Commerce to establish an Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. This office would serve as a single point of contact to streamline management of federal broadband resources across multiple agencies, creating a simpler process for small businesses and local economic developers to access information and funds for broadband deployment projects.

This office would:

  • Connect with communities that need access to high-speed internet and improved digital inclusion efforts;

  • Hold regional workshops to share best practices and effective strategies for promoting broadband access and adoption;

  • Develop targeted broadband training and presentations for various demographic communities through media;

  • Develop and distribute publications providing guidance to communities for expanding broadband access and adoption;

  • Track construction and use of any broadband infrastructure built using federal support.

On an annual basis, the office would report on its work and:

  • The number of U.S. residents who received broadband as a result of federal broadband programs and the Universal Service Fund program

  • An estimate of broadband deployment efforts’ economic impacts on local economies

Additionally, the office would consult with any agency offering a federal broadband support program in order to streamline the application process and create one application that may be submitted to apply for all federal broadband support programs.

The bill’s full title is the Advancing Critical Connectivity Expands Services, Small Business Resources, Opportunities, Access, and Data Based on Assessed Need and Demand (ACCESS BROADBAND) Act.

Impact

Rural communities; broadband providers; Department of Commerce; and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

Cost of House Bill H.R. 3994

A CBO cost estimate for this bill is unavailable.

More Information

In-DepthRep. Paul Tonko (D-NY) introduced this bill to streamline management of federal broadband resources across multiple agencies and simplify the process for small businesses and local economic developers to access federal funds for broadband deployment projects:

“Broadband Internet access is often the difference between success and failure for students doing homework, job seekers training for a new career, doctors reading a medical scan or entrepreneurs starting a small business. However, to date the federal government has done a poor job of tracking broadband deployment. Investments are made with little accountability and oversight on behalf of the taxpayer. This bill will simplify the process for private and public sector leaders to tap into existing federal broadband resources and help ensure that a zip code does not define the economic potential of our students, doctors, entrepreneurs and the communities they call home.”

Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) believes that this bill is limited on substance, and falls short of giving the NTIA the resources it needs.

There are 17 cosponsors of this bill, including 10 Democrats and seven Republicans. The Fiber Broadband Association and USTelecom both support this bill.


Of NoteRural broadband is a critical pathway to global markets for agriculture and other industries. Farmers and ranchers depend on broadband just as much as they do on highways, railways, and waterways in order to access buyers for their products. Additionally, high-speed internet access has become a requirement for tapping into healthcare, educational services, government agencies, and new business opportunities. 

Despite this, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 39% of rural Americans lack access to broadband service, compared to only 4% of urban Americans. Across the country, 23 million Americans live in rural areas where there’s no broadband internet. And these numbers are likely to be significant understatements of the issue, due to to the way that connectivity statistics are compiled.

Without broadband, many rural residents must either rely on expensive, slow connections that may cost into the hundreds of dollars per month or go without internet access at all. This digital divide affects not only residents’ online pastimes, but also their chances at better living.

Areas without modern internet connections can’t attract new businesses, and their isolation discourages the enterprises they do have: ranchers who want to buy and sell cattle in online auctions, or farmers who could use the internet to monitor crops. Lack of broadband also disrupts businesses that use high-speed data transmission, including banks, insurance firms, and factories.

As rural America struggles to keep people and ideas in their communities, the quality of technology that’s available makes a difference to residents’ opportunities and willingness — and ability — to stay. The ability to participate in the digital economy, and even to gain digital know-how to enter the workplace, are critical to rural workers’ employability.

The economic difference that broadband makes is tangible: a 2015 study by university researchers in Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Texas who compared rural counties before and after getting high-speed internet services found that rural counties with more household connected to broadband had higher incomes and lower unemployment than those with fewer connections.

Roberto Gallardo, assistant director of the Purdue Center for Regional Development, likens broadband today to the railroad and highway infrastructure projects of the past:

“What we know off the bat is that if you don’t have broadband you will be left out. If you do have it, it really is analogous to the installation of a railroad 100 years ago or a highway 50 years ago. Broadband has that same potential to connect communities.”

Today, the rural broadband landscape is spotty at best. In some states, such as North and South Dakota, officials have done their best to give their residents fiber-optic network services. There are some states, such as Minnesota, where providers have come together to build infrastructure in the name of economic development. In Minnesota, 117 providers and state governments have worked together to provide grants and a flexible network of local not-for-profit organizations to slowly build out coverage. Then, in some other areas, there is broadband built out by rural electric cooperatives. Finally, there are some areas with nothing to connect them to the modern world at all, such as in Oregon, where 43 school districts in 10 counties still lack a fiber-optic connection.

Some experts, looking at the patchwork of needs across the country today, believe that a federal mandate like the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 is needed to bring the all areas to the same service level.

With that said, past federal efforts to expand rural broadband efforts haven’t been particularly successful. In 2009, the Obama administration earmarked $7 billion from the 2009 stimulus package for expanding rural broadband service. Half of the money — $3.5 billion — went to a program that the administration estimated would reach 840,000 households and businesses.

Nine years later, there still isn’t a tally of how many people were connected, and at what speeds. However, limited data suggests the program was not particularly successful. In Missouri, where broadband providers received $261 million of the stimulus money, the program was unsuccessful, and did not have the impact that was projected. Similarly, Big River Communications, a St. Louis-based telecommunications provider that collected $20 million in stimulus money to connect parts of southeast Missouri, initially set up a $14.99/month plan for students, seniors, and low-income households — but then brought its prices up to $49.99/month on a limited data plan and $99.99 for unlimited use for connections with a paltry two to seven Mbps per hour speed. Moreover, Big River’s current customer base of 4,000 subscribers in seven counties is far short of the 52,000 it estimated it would reach.


Media:

Summary by Lorelei Yang

(Photo Credit: deepblue4you / iStock)

AKA

ACCESS BROADBAND Act

Official Title

To establish the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth, and for other purposes.

bill Progress


  • Not enacted
    The President has not signed this bill
  • The senate has not voted
      senate Committees
      Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation
  • The house Passed July 23rd, 2018
    Passed by Voice Vote
      house Committees
      Communications and Technology
      Committee on Energy and Commerce
    IntroducedOctober 6th, 2017

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    RURAL COMMUNITIES NEED TO HAVE THIS ACCESS TO THE INTERNET.
    Like (5)
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    I have a hard time trusting the federal government to get it right, but access to information is as vital today as access to clean water and reliable electricity. (Despite that being something our government can’t seem to do right now in Flint, MI or Puerto Rico). I blame the current administration for that, not government as a whole.
    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
    Federal efforts to expand rural broadband access simply don’t work, and the cost of expanding broadband to some rural areas is too high to justify the cost to the government. Additionally, there are already private sector efforts to bring broadband to rural areas. Keep the bloated federal government out of the private sector.
    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
    Information is power. Access can empower otherwise isolated communities.
    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share
    Having the federal government involved in expanding broadband services in rural areas is too costly and something state governments should be in charge of doing to make their state more attractive to individuals who are seeking to more due do to jobs or going to school.
    Like (1)
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    Leave it to the free market.
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    I love this idea! It can help people! If this doesn’t work for a few years then change something!
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    The problem I see with this is that the contract will go to the lowest bidder and not the most competent company. I do feel that having a centralized point of contact is a very good idea. I just don’t think that putting the Government Services Administration In charge of what should be a free and competitive environment is the best idea.
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    To costly, Leave it as it is.
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    Leaving it to the ‘free market’ hasn’t worked. Large companies buying out competition, and companies dividing up jurisdictions to avoid competing with each other have been brutal for customers. I would support federal efforts to make this market truly free by prohibiting these tactics.
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    It’s pretty clear that the private sector working by itself has failed to provide adequate service to rural areas of the country. I’m not sure how big of an impact this bill will have, but we definitely need a much more intense effort on the part of the federal government to bring broadband service to Americans in rural parts of the country.
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    Let monopolistic telecommunications providers eat the cost of dealing with 50 individual state policies for a while and they’ll beg to return to Federal oversight. Technology will run them over long term anyway. “Dumb pipe” is the only future they have, and good riddance to them.
    Like
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    Look at European Countries, Japan, South Korea, China, their government has taken responsible for providing high-speed service to their people at fair prices and extremely high speeds. We, as the people, and the government need to work together to reach the same level of internet speed as those countries have or else we will severely fall behind educating our children all because companies are fighting over each other to get customers for money and overcharging us for internet service.
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    They should be kept separate.
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    Yes! This is so important
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    Private Enterprise already does an excellent job of making world-class internet available to all who need it.
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    If it’s government, it will be screwed up. Please vote no, let private sector do it, and without government regulations or subsidies!
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    I do not usually encourage bills that add to government, however I do believe that broadband internet has become a necessity in today’s life. Resources available include education, health/first aid, weather conditions, veterinary aid, crop research, government updates, amongst others that if I were a rural person would understand more fully.
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    Access to high speed broadband is a critical issue facing us today. Support this bill.
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    I strongly support this bill.
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