U.S. Chamber Releases Recommendations for Closing the Digital Divide in Rural America

  • PRESS RELEASE

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Technology Engagement Center (C_TEC) released nine policy principles today aimed at closing America’s digital divide. The principles include policy recommendations for funding high-cost broadband, bridging the homework gap, expanding telehealth, and reducing permitting barriers to expand connectivity.

“The global pandemic has exacerbated the Digital Divide in America. Rural connectivity lags and many lower income families lack the necessary digital tools to connect,” said Tom Quaadman, executive vice president, U.S. Chamber Technology Engagement Center. “It’s time for Congress to pass long-term broadband funding and permitting relief to sustainably bridge this divide while offering temporary, targeted, and timely solutions to address COVID-19 specific disparities. If done correctly, this will improve education and health care opportunities for deserving communities while giving our slumping economy a much needed boost.”

The policy principles were developed by C_TEC’s Telecommunications & E-Commerce Policy Committee, a group of 90 leading companies and trade associations representing wireless and wireline carriers, satellite providers, broadcasters, technology companies and other stakeholders.

The Chamber will continue to work with U.S. legislators to enact the following policy principles to ensure America’s communications infrastructure provides equal opportunity for all.

 Broadband Funding Principles

  1. Technology Neutrality: Allow all technologies [and providers] to compete for funds to serve truly unserved areas, prohibit duplicative funding, and establish funding programs without existing Section 254 limitations, such as existing ETC requirements. 
     
  2. Collocation: Support collocation by enabling funds to be used for leasing tower space in addition to capital expenditures.
     
  3. Speed to Market: In a COVID environment, speed matters and funding should be distributed to those who can stand up broadband network quickly. 

 Homework Gap Principles

  1. Funding Source: Fund out of general appropriations, not universal service contributions.
     
  2. Program Design: A separate program from E-rate, but to the extent FCC finds useful it can borrow E-rate rules.
     
  3. Targeted and Temporary: The program should last for only the duration of the national emergency and be targeted to low-income households without a home broadband connection or in jeopardy of losing their broadband connection, including related equipment and/or a computer (laptop, tablet, or desktop computer).
     
  4. Technology Neutrality: Allow any technology.
     
  5. Eligibility: Limited to; 1) connectivity (wired or wireless), 2) service equipment (e.g. modems, routers, hotspots), and 3) devices (e.g. tablets/computers/smartphones).

In addition to these policy principles, the Chamber is also calling on Congress to address permitting relief that will encourage deployment. Today’s permitting hurdles, including overly-burdensome fees, are hindering broadband buildout and reform would provide much-needed certainty.

To access a printable version of the Chamber’s Broadband Funding Principles and Homework Gap Principles, go to AmericanInnovators.com, and for additional information regarding the Chamber’s stance on broadband funding and permitting, read our latest blog post on uschamber.com/above-the-fold.