Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.) on Thursday unveiled legislation that would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to update the National Broadband Plan and study how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted internet access.
The “National Broadband Plan for the Future Act” instructs the FCC to issue an update report on the National Broadband Plan by July 2021.
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The National Broadband Plan was released by the FCC in 2010 and focused on expanding internet access in the United States. However, over the past decade, the digital divide has remained persistent—with some estimates showing around 20 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed internet.
Meanwhile, the coronavirus pandemic has shined a light on how important closing that divide is, with more and more people relying on access for work and schooling.
Markey’s legislation would require the FCC to give Congress a progress report on the goals of the original National Broadband Plan, the plans to increase internet connectivity, and the coronavirus pandemic and how it affected people in the United States in regards to internet access.
“The National Broadband Plan laid out a vision for connecting all Americans to the internet, and we have made tremendous progress over the last decade,” Markey said in a statement. “But the coronavirus pandemic has shown us that our work is far from done to ensure universal connectivity. Now more than ever, we see how necessary robust and affordable broadband is to the future of education, employment, medical care, and commerce in America. We need to update the National Broadband Plan so we can continue to invest in our nation’s future by bringing the power and promise of broadband to us all.”
The digital divide has been a focus of lawmakers during the pandemic, with many calling for funds to help close it. Thousands of people have signed onto petitions urging for broadband funding to be included in the next coronavirus relief bill.
Meanwhile, advocates have asked Congress to include a provision in the next coronavirus relief bill that would ensure broadband and other utilities are not turned off for an extended period of time after the pandemic has slowed down.