Sen. Klobuchar Helms Rural Broadband Bill

A bipartisan rural broadband bill has been introduced by more than two dozen senators led by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.).

The Keeping Critical Connections Act is meant to make sure small broadband providers can ensure that students and their families can stay connected to broadband during the pandemic via continuing to offer free or discounted broadband.

Specifically, the bill would set aside $2 billion for a Keeping Critical Connections fund at the FCC. Smaller broadband providers (fewer than 250,000 customers) could tap that fund for providing "free or discounted broadband services or upgrades" to low income resident during the pandemic or for providing distance learning to students.

“Access to high speed internet is critical for students and their families during the coronavirus outbreak,” Klobuchar said of the new bill. She said it would make sure rural families and students stay connected to work school and community "during this period of economic turmoil..."

Klobuchar's office said the bill is backed by NTCA—the Rural Broadband Association, WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), the Minnesota Telecommunications Alliance, and the Broadband Association of North Dakota.

ACA Connects, which represents smaller operators, said Tuesday (March 24) that its members have taken numerous steps to keep its customers connected during the coronavirus crisis, including some who are providing "60 days of free standard high-speed Internet service and free installation to any home that is the primary home of a student in kindergarten through high school, in technical school, in college or in graduate school."

“ACA Connects supports the approach taken by Sens. Klobuchar and Cramer in the just-introduced Keeping Critical Connections Act," said an ACA Connects spokesperson. “If ACA Connects members are to continue maintaining service for existing customers and connect customers in need -- especially in higher cost rural areas -- and keep investing in network infrastructure to meet the surging amounts of traffic caused by the emergency, the government must be there as a backstop for all of them – and this legislation helps achieve that aim.”

Signing on to the bill in addition to Klobuchar were Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Gary Peters (D-Mich.). 

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.