House Energy & Commerce Committee Republicans Introduce 28 Bills to Close Digital Divide

On Tuesday, House Energy & Commerce Committee Republicans introduced 28 broadband-related bills to help close the digital divide, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, through their Boosting Broadband Connectivity Agenda.

Specifically, the group said the package aims to promote new infrastructure deployment; promote competition and consumer choice; modernize environmental or historical preservation reviews or barriers; and promote the deployment of broadband on federal lands. The primarily deregulatory bills are designed to increase the buildout rate for high-speed Internet, remove or streamline certain site reviews, and boost competition, the legislators said; the bills also put pressure on the government to approve various infrastructure projects.  

House Energy and Commerce Committee Republican Leader Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Communications and Technology Subcommittee Republican Leader Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio) noted “The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified the challenges faced by families and workers who still do not have reliable access to the internet. This has prevented millions from accessing vital health care, remote work, and economic resources. Unreliable internet and limited broadband access has also set countless children back in school because of connectivity issues while far too many schools remain closed. It’s unacceptable and hurting the next generation.”

Rep. McMorris Rodgers reiterated that “All families deserve to have reliable access to the internet, regardless of where they live. Closing the digital divide will be necessary as we work to reopen schools, get our children’s education back on track, and promote economic opportunity across the country.”

Meanwhile, Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Commissioner Brendan Carr applauded the initiative. “The Republican Members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee have introduced a smart set of infrastructure reforms that would advance a bold and effective connectivity agenda,” Commissioner Carr, who led the FCC’s recent infrastructure modernization efforts, said. “Their thoughtful reforms would help close the digital divide and further extend America’s leadership in 5G by helping to accelerate the build out of high-speed connections and boost competition for Americans’ broadband dollars. Their ideas, including legislation that would tackle the permitting delays that persist for Internet builds on federal lands, would make an immediate difference for rural communities across the country. I applaud their leadership and would encourage everyone that wants better, faster, and cheaper Internet services to work towards passing this important set of reforms.”

Issues that the Representatives discussed, such as lack of adequate broadband impacting children’s ability to participate in virtual learning, have been issues during the pandemic. For example, Law Street Media has covered a lawsuit filed against New York City for failing to provide adequate, reliable broadband in shelters for children for virtual learning. Additionally, the proposed bills could mean that FCC efforts to “rip and replace” Huawei and ZTE equipment would be streamlined by dropping a number of environmental or historical site reviews.

The Republicans are in the minority, so Democrats will have to approve the proposed bills before they move further along.