Washington-Endorsing another attempt to bridge the so-called digital divide, more than a dozen members of Congress have added their names to legislation that would bring high-speed Internet access to poor and rural communities.
The Broadband Internet Access Act (S 2698) now has 42 Senate co-sponsors, and 31 representatives have supported parallel legislation in the House (HR 4728). Though both bills, first introduced in June, have yet to gain a hearing, they may not be dead this year.
The legislation would offer tax incentives to carriers that provide high-speed-data services to poor and sparsely populated areas. Over the next five years, telecom providers would receive 10 percent tax credits for broadband services that deliver at least 1.5 megabits per second and 20 percent tax credits for next-generation services that carry information more than 10 times faster than current services.
The bill "will ensure that all people in this country irrespective of where they live will have access to this technology," said Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.). He compared Congress' attempt to bring high-speed Internet access to poor and rural communities with federal efforts to build the interstate highway system a half century ago.
Without government incentives, it would take decades for broadband to penetrate poor and rural areas, Thune said.
"Right now the digital divide shows no self-correcting signs," said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who noted that the bill encourages private industries to compete in often ignored markets. Broadband service is available in few rural and depressed areas of New York State, Schumer said.
Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) proposed the Senate's Broadband Internet Access Act. Rep. Philip English (R-Pa.) introduced the House version.
A half-dozen other bills to increase Internet infrastructure have been offered in Congress this year. Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) proposed similar legislation in March to target rural but not urban areas. Rockefeller now will concentrate on the Broadband Internet Access Act, a spokesperson said.
The legislation has received support from a broad coalition of non-profit organizations, business groups and technology companies. The coalition has lobbied Congress for the bill's passage for the past two months, said Grant Seiffert, vice president of government relations for the Telecommunications Industry Association, which represents telecom vendors.
Members said the bill could be passed before the session ends next month.
"It's going to be tough, but we're going to look for a vehicle," English said. States News Service