The Rural Broadband Protection Act would ensure providers applying for federal funding can reliably deliver broadband access to underserved, rural communities

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen broadband access for rural communities. The Rural Broadband Protection Act would require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to establish a more thorough vetting process to ensure that providers applying for federal funding are capable of delivering reliable broadband access to underserved, rural communities.

“In 2022, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every community in our country, regardless of their zip code,” said Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation will help Americans connect to work, school, health care and business opportunities by ensuring the companies that apply for federal funding to build out broadband infrastructure can get the job done. As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to close the digital divide and ensure families across our state can reliably access the high-speed internet they need.” 

“This bill is a product of many conversations I’ve had with small rural service providers and state and local officials in West Virginia,” said Capito. “The discussions I had with them made it abundantly clear the FCC needs congressional direction to ensure taxpayer money is being used properly to fund broadband deployment in rural areas. By verifying that providers can actually deliver on the promises made to bring high-speed internet to specific areas, we can maximize the influx of broadband dollars coming to West Virginia and move closer toward our goal of closing the digital divide in communities of all sizes across our state.” 

“Rural Americans deserve high-quality broadband access from providers capable of delivering on the promises they make in taking government funding to do so. NTCA has long advocated for proper vetting of those seeking funding, and on behalf of our small, community-based providers who have a proven track record of offering robust and reliable broadband, I thank Senator Capito for making sure that accountability is top of mind before new funding decisions are made. NTCA endorses this legislation and looks forward to continuing to work with Congress and the FCC to ensure effective use of universal service fund resources,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA, The Rural Broadband Association.

The legislation would:

  • Direct the FCC to issue rules to establish a vetting process for providers applying to expand broadband access through high-cost federal funding programs such as the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) and Universal Service Fund;
  • Require the FCC to collect and review supporting documentation included with provider applications that show that they are able to deliver the services they commit to. 

As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Klobuchar has been a national leader in efforts to expand broadband access and bridge the digital divide. Her legislation with House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-SC) to expand high-speed internet nationwide served as the basis for major broadband funding included in the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act

In March, she and Senator John Thune (R-SD) led a bipartisan group of colleagues in urging the FCC to provide rural communities with guidance on their broadband funding status.She also secured significant federal funding as part of the government funding package to expand broadband access for rural communities in Northeast Minnesota, and led successful efforts to resolve a dispute regarding Red River Communications, helping bring high-speed Internet access to rural communities in the Red River Valley.

In November, she and Thune introduced bipartisan legislation to expand rural broadband access by strengthening the funding mechanisms for the USF, which promotes universal access to broadband and other telecommunications services. 

Last July, she introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to expand rural broadband access by streamlining the funding process and removing barriers for broadband connectivity in hard-to-serve rural areas.

In January 2021, Klobuchar and Thune led a bipartisan, bicameral of over 150 colleagues in pressing the FCC to ensure that broadband providers who received  RDOF funding were capable of delivering reliable broadband service.