A vintage tune from ABBA and a new bill carrying the same acronym aimed at rural broadband have a little something in common: They both involve money, money, money.
US Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Doug Jones (D-Ala.) on Thursday proposed the American Broadband Buildout Act of 2019 (ABBA), a bipartisan bill aiming to help rural parts of the US gain access to broadband services. It's also a follow-on to a recently introduced bill seeking to overhaul the US broadband mapping process.
ABBA directs the FCC, which currently defines broadband as minimum speeds of 25 Mbit/s downstream and 3 Mbit/s upstream, to provide up to $5 billion in matching grants to help rural parts of states improve and upgrade their broadband infrastructure for services like OTT video, telemedicine and online education.
ABBA's aim is to fund projects in unserved areas, where broadband is unavailable at speeds that meet the FCC standard. It calls for federal funding to be matched through public-private partnerships between the broadband service provider and the state in which the infrastructure project will be built.
"Narrowing the focus to those areas will ensure that the money goes where it’s needed most, and will protect against 'over-building' where broadband infrastructure is already in place," Collins said in a statement delivered on the Senate floor.
Projects are also designed to be future-proof in the sense that they can be upgraded to stay in stride with the demand for more speed and bandwidth.
Collins, a native of Aroostook County in Mississippi, noted that rural communities often struggle to attract and retain physicians. She sees telemedicine as a way to help those civilians gain access to proper medical care.
"Broadband can help bridge the gap by enabling innovative health care delivery in these rural communities," Collins said in the statement. "Our bipartisan bill would help rural communities access high-speed Internet and overcome this digital divide by funding broadband where it is needed most."
Jones added that in his state and in other parts of the country, reliable, speedy Internet services remain hard to come by in some areas. "It's no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity for modern life," he said. "This bill will help public-private partnerships fund broadband development in the areas that need it most."
The bill received some cheers from a range of groups and organizations, including the Northern Light Home Care & Hospice, which operates six home care and hospice locations in Maine; the
Telecommunications Association of Maine; and the NCTA – The Internet & Television Association.
"In particular, we appreciate the legislation's emphasis on directing funds to areas that need them the most, as well as a requirement for the FCC to immediately improve its fixed broadband maps at a sub-census block level," NCTA said in a statement.
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