Senate Commerce Approves Rural Broadband Access Bill

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The Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation today approved S. 2418, the Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act of 2018.

The bill directs the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to develop regulations that would establish a national standard for determining whether mobile service, mobile data service, and broadband Internet service in rural areas are reasonably comparable to the services provided in urban areas.

“It’s legislation that would advance the Federal Communication Commission’s goal of providing wireless broadband services in rural and urban areas,” said Sen. Maggie Hassan, D-N.H., at today’s committee meeting. “If enacted this bill would help close the rural-urban digital divide and would provide the FCC with the additional tools necessary to ensure that people in rural communities receive a fair shake when it comes to mobile broadband access.”

Other senators at the hearing agreed that the bill is necessary to ensure equitable access to broadband service.

“While progress has been made when it comes to improving access to rural broadband access, we still have too many areas that continue to fall behind,” said Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V.

Committee members voted to approve the Hassan substitute, introduced by Sen. Hassan, a sponsor of the bill. The Hassan substitute makes changes from a previous version of the bill regarding the timeline and reporting expectations that the FCC must follow. Under the Hassan substitute, the FCC has no more than 180 days to begin the process to establish a national standard to determine whether mobile broadband service available in rural areas is reasonably comparable to mobile broadband service provided in urban areas. Additionally, after beginning the process to set a national standard, the FCC has to update Congress once every 180 days on its progress in establishing a national standard.

Under previous versions of the bill, the FCC had 180 days to “promulgate regulations that establish a national standard to determine… whether commercial mobile services, commercial mobile data services, and broadband Internet access services available in rural areas are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas.” The previous bill made no mention of progress reports.

After today’s committee approval, the bill is referred to the full Senate for consideration. S. 2418’s companion bill in the House–H.R.2903–was initially introduced in June of 2017 and remains with the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications and Technology.

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