Senators Susan Collins (R., Maine) and Doug Jones (D., Ala) have introduced a bipartisan bill, the American Broadband Buildout Act of 2019 (ABBA), directing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide up to $5 billion in matching grants to assist states or state-designated entities in the private-public buildout of broadband in rural areas that have little to no Internet access. The last-mile broadband infrastructure will help bring high-speed broadband to homes and businesses still fail to receive adequate service speeds. The projects to build the last-mile infrastructure will be funded by a joint effort of the federal government, private broadband providers, and states to assist in closing the digital divide in America.
The ABBA envisions a maximum buildout timeframe of six years from the date on which the FCC first awards a project grant to an eligible entity. The ABBA’s numerous requirements seek to guarantee that the money goes to where it is most needed and therefore avoids over-building of broadband infrastructure. The requirements include: (1) projects receiving funding must be located in “unserved” areas, where broadband speeds do not meet FCC standards; (2) infrastructure projects must be “future proof”, meaning that they are capable of delivering higher speeds as broadband innovation accelerates into the future; (3) the federal funding must be matched by at least 50 percent through private-public partnerships; and (4) there must be grants for digital literacy and public awareness campaigns.