The Senate Commerce Committee yesterday passed the “Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act of 2018” (S. 2418), a bill that would direct the FCC to develop a formula for determining typical urban mobile broadband internet access and ensuring that rural areas have access to comparable service.
“This legislation will help us bridge the digital divide like exists in my state and throughout other parts of rural America. While progress has been made when it comes to access to rural broadband, we still have too many areas that continue to fall behind,” said the bill’s author, Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WVA, pictured) during a committee mark-up session.
The bill would direct the FCC within the first six months of enactment to adopt a rulemaking to determine whether “mobile broadband service available in rural areas is reasonably comparable to mobile broadband service provided in urban areas.” The Commission also would be required to provide Congress with progress reports every six months on progress toward establishing the new standard.
Once the commission establishes the standard, any rural area with mobile services falling below the benchmark would be deemed “underserved” for universal service funding purposes.
The bill defines “rural” as any area served by a rural “school or library” as defined under other existing statues or areas currently served by a rural telephone company. The bill directs the FCC to measure the average mobile broadband speeds in top 20 most populated U.S. Metropolitan Statistical Areas to make the comparison.
The bill made it through committee in the Senate quickly after being introduced in February 2018 but could face conservative opposition on the Senate floor. The House version of the bill (HR 2903) was introduced back in June 2017 and has been stuck in the Energy and Commerce since.