Gigabit Opportunity Zones Bill Introduced

Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) has introduced a bill, the Gigabit Opportunity (or GO) Act, that she says would accelerate the deployment of high-speed broadband in low-income and rural communities.

It would also add some Hill imprimatur to proposals already offered up by the current FCC chairman.

The bill would give tax breaks to companies for investing in gigabit-capable expansion into those communities, direct the FCC to release a framework that encourages states, counties and cities to voluntarily adopt streamlined broadband laws and be designated as a “Gigabit Opportunity Zone," and defer capital gains for upgrades and allow companies to expense the cost of creating those zones, as well as allow states to more easily issue tax-exempt bonds.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai has launched two proceedings to make it easier to build out broadband, wireless and wired, and has proposed creating Gigabit Opportunity Zones providing such tax breaks and streamlined approvals for buildouts.

Capito's office points out that the bill stems from her work with Pai.

“The economic benefits of broadband are clear, especially in West Virginia," said Capito in introducing the bill. "Investments in broadband in our communities, coupled with smart public-private partnerships, can jumpstart economic development and create jobs,” Capito said. “The GO Act gives states flexibility, streamlines existing regulations and eliminates barriers to investment so we can better connect our low-income and rural communities.”

The bill was introduced in advance of a hearing in the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday entitled "Investing in America’s Broadband Infrastructure: Exploring Ways to Reduce Barriers to Deployment," where Capito put in a pitch for the legislation and got some support from the witness panel.

“Introduced today by Senator Shelley Moore Capito, the Gigabit Opportunity (GO) Act is an important step toward closing the digital divide, and one that has my full support," said Pai of the bill.  Next-generation networks are increasingly critical to economic opportunity, job creation, and civic engagement. But too many parts of rural and urban America can’t attract the investment needed to deploy those networks.  With targeted tax incentives and regulatory streamlining, the GO Act aims to remove the major barriers holding back Internet access in economically challenged areas.

“I commend Senator Capito for her vision of extending digital opportunity to all Americans.  The FCC shares that vision and stands ready to provide any necessary assistance to Congress as it considers this critical legislation.”

“I applaud Senator Capito for introducing the GO Act and for her leadership on this very important mission to ensure all Americans, including low-income individuals and those residing in rural and hard-to-reach areas, have access to high-speed mobile broadband services," said Steven Berry, president of the Competitive Carriers Association. "There is absolutely no question the positive impact that mobile broadband brings – economic, social, educational, health, public safety – the list goes on, and in this day and age, it has become a necessity.”

“The GO Act is an important step in helping bridge the digital divide and corresponds nicely with Chairman Pai’s Digital Empowerment Agenda. I thank Senator Capito for her attention to this critical issue and look forward to our continued work with Congress and the FCC to ensuring every American, in every corner of the U.S., can connect.”

“Sen. Capito is among the preeminent leaders in the U.S. Congress when it comes to promoting robust broadband deployment,” said NTCA The RUral Broadband Association CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “We thank the senator for her continued focus on this issue and look forward to further conversations about this bill and other initiatives to help ensure that properly tailored and effective incentives are in place to target broadband deployment to those places in need and to enable greater access by all Americans to future-proof networks.”

"The Fiber Broadband Association and its members thank Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) for introducing the Gigabit Opportunity (OP) Act, and applaud her and her c," said association president Heather Burnett Gold. "Bills like this one extend access to the benefits of fiber—economic growth, educational opportunity, social mobility, enhanced civic participation, and more—to all Americans, regardless of where they live."

(Photo via Rock1997Image taken on Jan. 18, 2017 and used per Creative Commons 2.0 license. The photo was cropped to fit 3x4 aspect ratio.)

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.