Technology

McMorris Rodgers worried broadband funding will miss mark without new maps

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) makes an opening statement at a House Energy and Commerce Committee oversight hearing of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Tuesday, July 27, 2021.
Greg Nash

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said Tuesday that broadband maps need updates so proposed funding in the Senate-passed infrastructure bill can be distributed to the right places.

“We need to close this digital divide once and for all, but in order to do that, we have to have maps that actually reflect where the needs are,” Rodgers said at The Hill’s A More Perfect Union event on Tuesday.

“I’m very concerned that we are going to be spending billions of dollars, but it is not going to go to the truly unserved, underserved areas in my district and around the country,” she added.

President Trump signed the Broadband Data Act into law in March 2020, requiring the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to collect more granular data on service availability from providers. But Rodgers said the maps are still outdated, coming up on nearly two years later.

“I just would continue to impress upon the FCC that we need to get the maps updated so that as Congress is getting ready to appropriate a lot of money that it’s going to the truly unserved and underserved areas,” she told The Hill’s Steve Clemons.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) announced earlier this month that the FCC had provided $53.5 million for his state’s broadband through the agency’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund over the next 10 years, but more than 2,400 state residents had proven through speed tests to the FCC that the maps used to distribute the grants were incorrect.  

Manchin said broadband funds in the Senate-passed infrastructure bill are tied to new maps. That bill now awaits a vote in the House as Democratic leaders look to finalize a deal within their caucus with those who have held their support for the infrastructure package until there is a commitment on a larger social spending framework.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), chief deputy whip of the Democratic Caucus, expressed optimism that members would reach a deal.

“We’re gonna stick together and we’re gonna pass it,” he said at the event.

Welch, a co-chair of the House Rural Broadband Caucus, said President Biden’s nomination of acting FCC Chair Jessica Rosenworcel to permanently head the agency will be a “big boost” to improving access.

“Early on, she saw the absolute essential nature of the internet and having access to broadband for the educational opportunity of our kids,” Welch said.

The Hill’s “A More Perfect Union” festival is sponsored by Microsoft and Southern Company.

This story was updated at 7:22 p.m.

Tags Cathy McMorris Rodgers Donald Trump Jessica Rosenworcel Joe Biden Joe Manchin Peter Welch

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