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Thune Bill Would Tap FCC Auctions to Close Rural Divide

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) has introduced the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act of 2020, which would require the FCC to tithe from its auction revenues to subsidize rural broadband buildouts in unserved areas. 

The bill would require that 10% of net proceeds from competitive bidding FCC auctions--the C-Band auction, for example--through Sept. 30, 2022 would be placed in a "Rural Broadband Assessment and Deployment Fund" in the Treasury. 

Related: Thune Urges FCC to Stick to C-Band Auction Deadline

Net proceeds means all money left after relocation payments, payments for license relinquishment, and bidding credits. 

The FCC will get to borrow--at no interest--from the Treasury against that net revenue starting when it announces the results of an auction.  

The money is to be used to close gaps in high-cost areas that the FCC's High-Cost Universal Service Fund expenditures have not closed and shortfalls in High-Cost funding. 

The money would have to be handed out in an efficient and cost-effective, and technologically neutral manner, though there can be weighting for performance and quality of service. The speed will have to be at least 25 mbps downstream/3 mbps up, the FCC's current benchmark for high speed broadband. 

"Today more than ever, broadband connectivity is a necessity — not a luxury," said Fiber Broadband Association president Lisa Youngers. "The Fiber Broadband Association and its members support the Rural Connectivity Advancement Program and appreciate this effort to bring unconnected rural communities into the 21st century with high-speed access. By establishing a permanent funding source for rural broadband that will supplement current resources and utilize existing programs, this bill has the potential to deliver rapid results for rural Americans in more communities across our country. We are thankful to Senator Thune for his forward-looking leadership and remain committed to working with Congress to bridge the digital divide and connect all Americans, both rural and urban, with high-speed fiber broadband.”

NATE: The Communications Infrastructure Contractors Association liked the sound of all that potential new broadband buildout money.

“NATE commends Sen. John Thune for his continued strong leadership on communications issues that benefit citizens, companies, and industries throughout the United States," it said. "We are particularly pleased to endorse the ‘Rural Connectivity Advancement Program Act of 2020." This bill will help to promote broadband services in rural America by providing funding for communications infrastructure expansion,” said NATE president Todd Schlekeway.

John Eggerton
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.