Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) has introduced a bill that would require the FCC to establish a standard for whether wireless and wired broadband services in rural areas are reasonably comparable to those in urban areas.
"Not later than 180 days after the date of the enactment of this Act," the bill reads, "the Commission shall promulgate regulations that establish a national standard for determining, for purposes of rural, insular, and high cost universal service support...whether commercial mobile service, commercial mobile data service, and broadband internet access service available in rural areas are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas."
Importantly, rural areas where service does not meet the standard will be considered "underserved," not "unserved."
FCC chairman Ajit Pai has made closing the rural digital divide a priority.
The bill, H.R. 2903, the Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Act of 2017, has been referred to the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
The bill, which was introduced Thursday, is co-sponsored by Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.).
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The Competitive Carriers Association applauded the proposed legislation.
“I applaud Congressmen McKinley and Welch for introducing the Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Act,” said CCA president Steven K. Berry. “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.”
“Requiring the FCC to define reasonably comparable services also would help ensure critical Universal Service Fund support is targeted to locations where broadband services still lag behind urban areas. Competitive carriers serve some of the most-difficult-to-reach places in the country and depend on USF support to ensure customers in these areas have access to critical broadband services. Competitive carriers are ready to buildout and enhance their networks, and accurately identifying areas in-need is absolutely essential."