Law360 (March 8, 2021, 6:58 PM EST) — A pair of key Republican senators have introduced a bill that would require the federal government to use revenue from an ongoing spectrum auction to expand access to broadband internet and upgrade communications infrastructure.
The Broadband Reserve Fund Act, a five-page proposal introduced Thursday, would set aside up to $65 billion from the sale of C-Band leases. The first-round auction closed in January and brought in nearly $81 billion, according to the Federal Communications Commission.
The bill would let the FCC and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration use the money through 2030 to fund broadband deployment in underserved areas, including rural and Native American land, along with remote learning, telecom infrastructure and supply chains, telehealth and “precision agriculture technologies.”
The sponsors are Sens. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, the top Republican on the Senate Commerce Committee, and Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee, the top Republican on the panel’s consumer protection subcommittee.
“This legislation would preserve valuable resources to expand broadband access in unserved areas, secure the nation’s communications supply chain, and promote the development of next-generation technologies,” Wicker said in a statement.
“The pandemic has forced Americans to live an increasingly virtual life, and rural areas have been disproportionately impacted. We must do more to close the digital divide,” Blackburn said in a statement.
The proposal needs Democratic support to advance while that party controls both chambers of Congress and the White House. Democratic leaders on the Senate Commerce Committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
–Editing by Andrew Cohen.