Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is urging the FCC to loosen regulations on wireless broadband providers to help further close the digital divide in the time of COVID-19.
In a letter he praised steps the FCC has already taken to help get broadband to the over 20 million people who still lack it, but he said more needs to be done to close the gap now.
Specifically, in a letter to FCC chair Ajit Pai, he asked that the FCC make it easier for terrestrial wireless providers to increase their signal coverage, including by increasing power limits for Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPS) in rural and exurban areas and relaxing antenna height restrictions. He also wants the FCC to clarify that underused E-Rate-funded connections can be "leveraged" to support backhaul for fixed and mobile wireless.
"While I applaud a number of the steps the Commission has taken to improve service and widen access, including encouraging spectrum leases to utilize underutilized spectrum, temporarily waiving the E-Rate and Rural Health Care gift rules, and (after encouragement from offices such as mine) releasing a public notice clarifying that community use of E-Rate supported WiFi networks is permitted," he wrote, "much more work remains to be done. While a number of preexisting broadband programs, such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, will help close the broadband gap in the long-term, I encourage you to take action that can enable expanded coverage now."
He also wants WISPS to be able to take advantage of the FCC's special temporary authority (STA) that allows unlicensed use of the 5850-5895 MHz band, which would mean working with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and DOD to reduce the exclusion zones that prevent WISPs from doing so.
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