Senate Democrat urges FCC to more aggressively expand internet access

Senate Democrat urges FCC to more aggressively expand internet access
© Greg Nash

Sen. Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerVirginia senator calls for Barr to resign over order to clear protests Trump asserts his power over Republicans Expanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support MORE (D-Va.) urged the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to take more aggressive action to ensure Americans have internet access amid the coronavirus pandemic in a letter Thursday.

"Across the nation, Americans are struggling with the new reality of COVID-19 social distancing, with an unprecedented number of Americans reliant on internet connectivity for telework, telehealth, and online learning," Warner wrote to FCC head Ajit Pai.

"For too many Americans, however, even this challenging new status quo is unattainable: according to the latest figures from the FCC, over 20 million Americans still lack access to meaningful broadband service, with at least 770,000 Virginians currently unserved," he wrote.

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Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, noted that the FCC has taken steps to expand internet access during the coronavirus pandemic, including encouraging spectrum leases and temporarily waiving the E-Rate and Rural Health Care gift rules.

However, he wrote, "much more work remains to be done."

“While a number of preexisting broadband programs, such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, will help close the broadband gap in the long-term, I encourage you to take action that can enable expanded coverage now,” he said. 

Warner urged the FCC to temporarily increase power limits for wireless internet providers in rural areas and relax antenna height restrictions.

The Virginia lawmaker also suggested that the agency work with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Department of Defense to reduce the number of providers unable to access emergency Special Temporary Authority, which allows unlicensed access to some bandwidth.