Senators introduce bill to create 'parity' among broadband programs

Senators introduce bill to create 'parity' among broadband programs
© Greg Nash

Sens. Jacky RosenJacklyn (Jacky) Sheryl RosenWestern US airports face jet fuel shortage Bipartisan group says it's still on track after setback on Senate floor The Hill's Morning Report - Biden renews families plan pitch; Senate prepares to bring infrastructure package to floor MORE (D-Nev.) and Shelley Moore CapitoShelley Wellons Moore CapitoThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - US gymnast wins all-around gold as Simone Biles cheers from the stands The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators The 17 Republicans who voted to advance the Senate infrastructure bill MORE (R-W.Va.) on Friday introduced a bill to create "parity" among the government's dozens of broadband programs. 

The Broadband Parity Act would set one standard for "high-speed internet" across more than 20 programs aimed at improving access to broadband in the U.S. Right now, each program adheres to its own definition of what constitutes speedy internet. 

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"In 2019, quality broadband internet connections should be readily available to Nevadans across our state,” Rosen said in a statement. “This is especially true for those living in rural communities who depend on reliable internet connectivity to access services such as telehealth and to participate fully in our digital economy."

"This bipartisan legislation will take concrete steps towards closing the digital divide for all Americans and I’ll continue to work on solutions that bring parity to our communities," she said.

Capito said she hopes the bill will aid efforts to close the "digital divide," or the disparity in internet access within urban and rural areas.

The act would require all of the programs to use the Federal Communications Commission's (FCC) definition of "high-speed," which is 25 megabits per second (mbps) download and 3 mbps upload. 

Any areas that do not have access to that internet speed will not be considered "served" under the legislation.

Rosen and Capito are both members of the Senate Commerce Committee and have been outspoken about the need to improve broadband access across the country. 

The Senate panel advanced legislation to address the issue earlier this year. The Broadband Deployment Accuracy and Technological Availability (DATA) Act would require the FCC to collect more granular and accurate data on how many Americans have access to high-speed internet.

The FCC's current broadband maps have been widely panned as inaccurate and unhelpful, as they often overstate which areas have adequate coverage. Because the FCC uses the maps to determine where to devote billions of dollars in broadband investment, the issue has drawn intense scrutiny from people who say they are being overlooked — particularly lawmakers from rural areas, where critics say the maps tend to be particularly inaccurate.

Members of the Senate Commerce Committee have introduced a litany of bills to address the "digital divide" over the past year.