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Expanding Broadband Takes Focus

COVID-19 has further demonstrated the need to expand broadband internet into rural areas, and Congressional leaders are pushing to make that happen. 

Rep. Jim Clyburn and Rep. Jeff Duncan both provided video discussions for the Municipal Association’s virtual Hometown Legislative Action Week, and both addressed the issue of broadband deployment.

Clyburn, who is the House majority whip, represents South Carolina’s 6th District. Last year he joined the House Rural Broadband Task Force and other Democrats in introducing the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act. That legislation would invest $100 billion to build high-speed internet infrastructure in communities that lack it or are otherwise underserved. 

“Broadband can do for rural communities in the 21st century what
electricity did in the 20th century.” – Rep. Jim Clyburn

“I’ve always treated broadband as a part of infrastructure, and I’m pleased that Congress has now taken on that mantle and made broadband deployment an integral part of our funding of infrastructure programs going forward,” Clyburn said. 

He praised the South Carolina General Assembly’s work in committing a portion of the state’s funding allocation from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to fund broadband. He also drew attention to the General Assembly allowing rural electrical cooperatives to use their existing rights-of-way for broadband installation as well. 

“I believe that the next greatest thing, for the 21st century, is to have broadband in every house,” Clyburn said. “Broadband can do for rural communities in the 21st century what electricity did in the 20th century.” 

Duncan, who represents the 3rd District, also serves on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees broadband policy. Duncan said broadband deployment needs Congress to first make the permitting process easier.

“More than 21 million Americans could not access broadband before COVID-19,
and that number is shocking.” – Rep. Jeff Duncan

For that reason, he said he introduced the Expediting Federal Broadband Deployment Reviews Act “to ease the regulatory burdens and speed up the permitting process for broadband permits on federal lands, like the forest land in my district. I have also cosponsored bipartisan legislation to speed up the FCC auction process in a way that would allow co-ops to more quickly develop rural broadband resources while competing for those federal contracts.”

“More than 21 million Americans could not access broadband before COVID-19, and that number is shocking,” he said. “So that’s why it’s so important that we don’t stop the progress now. We can work on expanding broadband in a bipartisan fashion here in Congress, and on the state level.” 

The Municipal Association’s 2021-2022 Advocacy Initiatives include amending the newly adopted broadband expansion law to allow cities and towns to not only lay fiber, but also light the fiber or partner with a third party to light it.