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GOP Leaders Offer Broadband Framework

House and Senate Republican leaders have drawn up their own plan for closing the digital divide in the age of COVID-19. 

Senate Commerce Committee chairman Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) and House Energy & Commerce Committee ranking member Greg Walden (R-Ore.) describe it as a foundation for legislative action related to the COVID-19 economic recovery. 

In the process, they said, the proposals would "modernize the nation’s communications infrastructure, allow all Americans to participate in the digital economy, and enhance U.S. network security, reliability, and resiliency." 

According to its backers framework would include 1) authorizing funding for the FCC to complete accurate broadband mapping efforts, something FCC chair Ajit Pai has been calling for; 2) making sure students have access to broadband, 3) making sure those having trouble paying for broadband can still get it, 4) promoting digital equity; and 5) helping carriers "working tirelessly to to keep Americans connected" during the pandemic. 

The bill would also put Congress' imprimatur on FCC efforts to streamlining telecom infrastructure and equipment permitting processes and make sure the FCC's telehealth program--which got a $200 million infusion in the CARES Act--has the necessary resources to make sure health care providers can treat patients remotely. 

“The coronavirus pandemic has made expanding access to broadband even more urgent,” said Wicker. “This framework would support the delivery of these services by fostering investment, promoting broadband deployment, and enhancing network security and resiliency. I thank Ranking Member Walden for working with me to help expand reliable broadband connection to all Americans.” 

“Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 21 million Americans did not have access to broadband services. The need to deploy broadband, bridge the digital divide, and close the homework gap have been highlighted during the COVID-19 pandemic as Americans work, learn, and receive health care from their homes,” said Walden. “I am proud to work with Chairman Wicker on a bicameral broadband and digital equity framework that will make meaningful strides toward expanding access to vital broadband services, securing networks, and closing the digital divide for all Americans."