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The Federal Communications Commission would be required to identify whether rural areas have access to high-speed mobile broadband under legislation introduced June 15.
The Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Act of 2017 (H.R. 2903) by Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) would direct the FCC to gather data on wireless broadband service in rural areas. Under the bill, the agency would have to declare any rural area “underserved” if it has wireless service that lags behind the average speed of wireless internet in the country’s top 20 most populated urban areas.
“This bill will allow us to better understand the digital gap and target resources where they are needed most,” McKinley said in a statement.
The measure was introduced in advance of several congressional hearings scheduled for the week of June 19 on how to improve mapping of broadband availability and support mobile broadband access in rural areas.
Telecom giants such as Comcast Corp. and AT&T Inc. have been slower to build out their high-speed networks in thinly populated rural areas. Policymakers at the FCC and in Congress are weighing more action to spur greater broadband deployment, particularly in rural areas.
McKinley’s bill wouldn’t require the FCC to do anything to remedy an area’s “underserved” designation. But it would formalize a component of efforts to expand broadband access nationwide.
The Competitive Carriers Association, an industry trade group representing smaller wireless providers, hailed the legislation.
“Many rural and regional areas unfortunately still lack mobile broadband services comparable to their urban counterparts, as required by Congress, and this bipartisan bill is an important step to helping identify areas still in-need,” CCA President and CEO Steven Berry said in a statement.
Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) co-sponsored the bill. McKinley and Welch both serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over the FCC.
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