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Federal Lawmakers Work on Rural Broadband Expansion

The bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission to accelerate the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20.4 billion fund designed to bring broadband access to rural homes and small businesses.

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(TNS) — U.S. Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, has co-sponsored legislation that would accelerate the installation broadband internet in rural parts of the U.S.

House Resolution 7022, the Rural Broadband Acceleration Act, was introduced by Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina, on Wednesday, May 27.

The bill would direct the Federal Communications Commission to accelerate the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, a $20.4 billion fund designed to bring broadband access to rural homes and small businesses.

During a media call Thursday, Clyburn said the need for internet has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic as schools and health care providers shift to remote learning and telemedicine.

"COVID-19 has exposed some deficiencies, some fault lines in our economies that we have to do something to address," he said. "This is a great country. Our challenge is making that greatness accessible for all Americans.

"There is one area where accessibility needs to be gotten. That is in the area of broadband deployment. Telework, telehealth, online learning are all impossible in rural areas without broadband internet."

Currently, the FCC isn't slated to begin work on the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund until October. Upton said he hopes to push HR 7022 through Congress and have work begin as early as this summer.

He added in discussions with local superintendents around the Sixth Congressional District, there are major concerns for students who lack access to internet.

"You can't live today without internet," he said. "I'm an optimist, I think there's a real chance if we get the right bipartisan support in the House and the Senate that we could see action this summer."

Upton also said the bill would create 240,000 construction jobs. Per the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate was 14.7 percent for the month of April, as many have lost work during the pandemic.

"We can begin to see this happen right away to connect our community to make sure nobody is left behind," he said.

The resolution has been referred to the House Committee on Energy and Commerce for consideration.

©2020 Holland Sentinel, Mich. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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