Senators put forward bill for FCC to fund local broadband during coronavirus shutdown

The bill calls for creating a fund at the FCC to help small broadband providers if they help Americans stay online.

Mar 24, 2020, 10:55 am*

Tech

Andrew Wyrich 

Andrew Wyrich

Keeping Critical Connections Act

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A group of more than a dozen bipartisan senators on Tuesday introduced the “Keeping Critical Connections Act,” a bill that would set up a fund at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help small broadband providers if they keep people online during the coronavirus emergency.

The bill would create a $2 billion fund at the FCC where broadband providers with less than 250,000 customers could be compensated if they provide free or discounted service during the coronavirus emergency to people who cannot pay bills or if they provide distance learning for students.

The bill was introduced by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), Sen. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Ark.), Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.), Sen. Doug Jones (D-Miss.), Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wy.), Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-N.V.), Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), and Sen. Gary Peters (D-Mich.).

“Access to high-speed internet is critical for students and their families during the coronavirus outbreak,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “The Keeping Critical Connections Act would help small broadband providers continue offering free or discounted broadband services to families and students in rural areas to ensure they remain connected to school, work, and their communities during this period of economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”

A companion bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives.

The coronavirus emergency has shined a light on the digital divide and the “homework gap” in the United States, as people have been asked to work from home and schools have closed and begun virtual lessons.

Several lawmakers have urged the FCC to take a series of actions including: creating a web portal for people to get more information on how to stay connected online and find where public WiFi hotspots are, and using the agency’s E-Rate program to give schools a one-time discount on devices to help students get online.

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*First Published: Mar 24, 2020, 10:52 am