Press Release Rural Broadband Access

Updating the National Broadband Plan Marks a Step Toward the Future, But Congress Must Follow Through

May 7, 2020 , , , , ,

Today, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, introduced the “National Broadband Plan for the Future Act.” The bill would instruct the Federal Communications Commission to update the National Broadband Plan, as well as study how the coronavirus pandemic has changed the way Americans connect and engage online.

The bill follows last week’s letter from Public Knowledge and 217 other public interest and industry groups urging Congress to include affordable broadband in future coronavirus stimulus packages. Public Knowledge commends Sen. Markey for championing broadband access for everyone during a time when no American can afford to be left behind.

The following can be attributed to Harold Feld, Senior Vice President at Public Knowledge:

“Over 10 years ago, the FCC issued a comprehensive National Broadband Plan to bring the benefits of broadband access to all Americans. Like many plans, it began with great enthusiasm. But the increasing dysfunction and hyper-partisanship that has rendered so much of Washington dysfunctional took its toll on the National Broadband Plan as well. Our experience with the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that while many people enjoy access to the broadband speeds we hoped for in 2020, many still have the same broadband access they had in 2010 — none at all. 

“Although some school systems have been able to go virtual, which they could not possibly have done in 2010, millions of American schoolchildren still do their homework on Wi-Fi in fast food parking lots or on jury-rigged school buses because their parents can’t afford a broadband connection at home. By any metric, we have failed to live up to the goals of the first National Broadband Plan, while the current FCC continues to issue self-congratulatory reports claiming that — despite all evidence to the contrary — broadband is being deployed in a timely manner to all Americans.

“Once again, Senator Markey has shown leadership by issuing a call to action. This bill would require an honest assessment of where we failed to bring broadband to all Americans. It would require a look at the ugly and uncomfortable truths that the pandemic has revealed about the extent of the digital divide, and demand a plan to address them. Every year, the FCC would be required to measure itself against the plan and its concrete results, rather than having the luxury of redefining ‘success.’

“In the end, however, plans and reflection are only as good as the political will to carry them out. This bill is an important first step. But unless Congress and the FCC have the political will to carry out the plan, we will find ourselves in 2030 wondering why the second National Broadband Plan of 2021 never came to fruition.”

You can view more recommendations on what Congress can do to help Americans during the pandemic.