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U.S.: Rural Broadband - Taking a Broad-Scope Look at State Legislation
Source: govtech.com
Source Date: Sunday, August 06, 2017
Focus: Electronic and Mobile Government
Country: United States
Created: Aug 07, 2017

Lawmakers seem more aware than ever that the Internet is a key component to building healthy economies and educational systems. In rural areas, where access to certain utilities and Internet can be sparse, lawmakers at all levels of government have been making a concerted effort to expand access to oft-overlooked constituents.

At the federal level, four bills relating to widespread broadband have been introduced. Take the Rural Broadband Deployment and Streamlining Act introduced in the U.S. Senate by lawmakers from West Virginia and Nevada, which is meant to bolster the expansion of broadband infrastructure on federally owned land. If successful, the bill would also require a streamlined federal application process for expediting broadband deployment.

The most recent legislation was introduced on Aug. 1; the bipartisan Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) bill, was introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., and Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H. The legislation aims to drive down wireless costs by opening commercially licensed and unlicensed spectrum space, while hopefully bettering broadband access in rural areas. 

In a similar spirit, the U.S. House’s Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act of 2017 would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop a national standard for “reasonably comparable” broadband services in rural and urban areas. Since the bill’s introduction in mid-June, however, it has not progressed in the House.  

Also in mid-June, Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., introduced legislation that would provide tax incentives for companies willing to build out rural broadband services. The so-called Gigabit Opportunity Act would effectively allow companies to front load the expensing of investments in rural networks within applicable zones. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai lauded the bill, which has not progressed since its June 16 introduction.

And in March, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., and Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., introduced legislation that would streamline broadband permitting in existing highway rights-of-way for broadband infrastructure projects. Called the Highway Rights-of-Way Permitting Efficiency Act of 2017, the bill seeks to avoid duplicative federal permitting and regulations and other issues that cause project delays and cost-overruns.

"We need to reduce the rural and urban divide in digital connectivity,” Daines said in a press release. “By eliminating unnecessary regulations we can more rapidly connect rural America and deploy broadband infrastructure."

While federal legislation intending to help blanket the nation with broadband is taking root, states across the country are taking matters in to their own hands — different takes on the same general idea stand at various stages of the legislative process.

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