Bipartisan Senate group forms broadband caucus

A bipartisan group of senators are joining together to launch the Senate Broadband Caucus, which will focus on broadband infrastructure and deployment and will address broadband issues affecting Americans, specifically increasing connectivity and closing the digital divide that particularly impacts rural America.

U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and John Boozman (R-Ark.) all have signed on to the caucus.

"From online business startups to digital learning and telemedicine, broadband access is critical to the strength of our economy and our communities. Unfortunately, the digital divide between rural and urban America is growing as essential broadband infrastructure falls behind in certain parts of the country," said Capito in a statement. "Last year, I announced my Capito Connect Plan to help bridge this divide in West Virginia. Today, I am happy to expand this effort with the launch of the Senate Broadband Caucus. By bringing together a bipartisan group of Senators from a diverse group of states, each with its own broadband challenges, this caucus is well-positioned to make a much-needed impact."

According to a news release from Capito's office, "for every $5 billion invested in broadband infrastructure, 250,000 jobs are created and with every percentage point increase in new broadband distribution, employment expands by 300,000 jobs." But, according to the FCC's 2016 Broadband Progress Report, one in ten Americans lacks broadband access and 39 percent in rural America lack any access.

The caucus's planned work to bridge the "digital divide" coincides with the work of providers like AT&T (NYSE: T) and Google Fiber (NASDAQ: GOOG) to connect more low-income Americans. In April, AT&T launched a program called "Access from AT&T" to provide reduced-cost wireline service to Americans who live in the carrier's 21-state service area and who participate in the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program. Dependent on where customers live, AT&T is offering three tiers: 10 Mbps for $10 per month, 5 Mbps for $10 per month and 3 Mbps for $5 per month.

Google Fiber is planning to offer free internet services to many low-income users across its footprint. Comcast (NASDAQ: CMCSA) continues to expand its low-cost internet "Internet Essentials" service.

And FCC has taken steps to expand internet services availability for poor Americans. In March the commission voted to upgrade the Lifeline program to include broadband offerings and give participants a $10 a month in subsidy for internet services.

For more:
- see this press release
- read this Broadcasting & Cable report

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FCC passes broadband-focused Lifeline reform following failed bipartisan agreement
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Broadband-centric Lifeline proposal gets mixed response from commissioners, trade groups
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