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Broadband Bill Introduced to Focus $10 Billion on Unserved Areas

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As Democrats push a definition of broadband availability to include 100 Mbps speeds and perhaps even price, a bipartisan bill is resurfacing to focus $10 billion in 2021 on reaching "unserved areas" according to the FCC current definition of high-speed.

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Cable broadband operators were praising the bill's return.

Sens. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and John Cornyn (R-Texas) have reintroduced the Eliminate the Digital Divide Act, which would deliver funds directly to states--rather than going to the FCC's Universal Service Fund subsidy program--based on how many unserved areas they have and how expensive it is to build out there, which would mean $1 billion of that money would go to Manchin's state of West Virginia.

The bill would require the FCC to get better broadband maps before handing out all that money.

It would define "unserved areas" eligible for the $10 billion as ones without access to broadband service with speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream/3 Mbps upstream, but it also gives the Democratic FCC a chance to expand that definition since it said in addition to that 25/3 high-speed definition, which is the FCC's current high-speed threshold, it adds "unserved area" also means one that does not have "download and upload 24 speeds that are established as benchmarks by the Commission after the date of enactment."

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“[The bill] helps address the digital divide by focusing broadband buildout and funding on the unserved areas of the country," said NCTA-The Internet & Television Association, in a statement. "[It] recognizes the importance of tech neutrality and includes important safeguards – including a challenge process, transparency, and reporting requirements – to ensure accountability. The legislation also focuses on the need to remove barriers to broadband deployment, such as the ETC requirement that imposes outdated telephone regulations on broadband services and excessive pole attachment rates. We look forward to working with the bill’s bipartisan sponsors as Congress considers broadband initiatives to help bring connectivity to those still without service and close the digital divide.”