Bipartisan legislation introduced in the Senate this week by Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Shelly Moore Capito (RWV) aims to bridge the digital divide by requiring the FCC to implement a national standard to ensure that fixed and wireless broadband services in rural areas are “reasonably comparable” to broadband services offered in urban areas.
The bill, known as the Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act of 2018, resembles bipartisan legislation of the same name that was introduced in the House last year by Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT) and David McKinley (RWV). Specifically, the Senate measure directs the FCC to adopt a national standard to determine whether “commercial mobile services, commercial mobile data services, and broadband Internet Access services available in rural areas are reasonably comparable to those services provided in urban areas.” To develop that standard, the FCC would be required to gather data on the average signal strength and speed of commercial mobile data and fixed broadband Internet access services provided in the top 20 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas and “periodically update the data gathered for determining these averages.” In turn, the national standard adopted by the FCC would be based on the aforementioned urban averages and thus require the average strength and speed of rural commercial mobile data and fixed broadband services to meet or exceed “the urban average determined by the data survey.” As such, the bill’s passage—in the words of a joint press release issued by Hassan and Capito—would “help ensure that there is equitable wireless and broadband service in rural and urban areas, which has long been undefined.”
Asserting that, “while progress has been made, too many rural areas continue to fall behind,” Capito told reporters that, by adopting a national broadband standard, “we can help more communities and businesses compete, grow and succeed.” As Hassan pledged to “continue working across the aisle to move this common sense measure forward,” Competitive Carriers Association President Steve Berry advised press sources that “many rural locations in the U.S. still lack mobile broadband services comparable to their urban counterparts, and this Act . . . will help ensure these important areas are not left behind.”