Thursday, August 10, 2017

Bipartisan bill aims to improve access and lower costs for rural broadband

A bipartisan pair of senators introduced a bill Aug. 8 that aims to improve wireless internet access and affordability in rural areas. Republican Cory Gardner of Colorado and Democrat Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire "propose opening up spectrum space for commercial licensed and unlicensed use with the hope that doing so will drive down wireless costs and increase its accessibility," Ali Breland reports for The Hill.

"The bill instructs the Federal Communications Commission to auction off the government-controlled spectrum of radio frequencies used for wireless communication, with the first auction to be held by next December," Mariam Baksh reports for Morning Consult. A provision of the bill would set aside 10 percent of the proceeds from the auctions to invest in rural broadband development. Gardner, who represents a state with an area that has possibly the worst internet access in America, said the legislation "offers innovative ways to avoid a spectrum crunch, pave the way for 5G service, and provide critical resources to rural America to continue rural buildout in unserved and underserved areas throughout Colorado and the country."
Estimated benefits of faster internet (Daily Yonder graphic; click on it for larger version)
The response has been largely positive. CTIA, a trade group representing the wireless industry, praised the bill for providing "a much needed long-term plan to unlock valuable licensed spectrum as demand for wireless data and content continues to skyrocket," Breland reports. Other stakeholders are more focused on the unlicensed spectrum. Michael Calabrese, director of New America's Wireless Future Project, said in a statement that he wants lawmakers to let unlicensed spectrum users share some frequencies licensed by fixed satellite owners. Companies holding licenses for parts of the spectrum are reluctant to share with unlicensed users, but they may have to. The new bill would require the FCC to "create opportunities" for unlicensed users right above the 5 GHz band, right next to a space licensed by automakers. "The car companies say such sharing could cause disruptions in vehicle-to-vehicle communication," Baksh reports.

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