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Call to Expand Broadband Internet Access into Rural Areas


Sponsored by: Sen. Richard Martínez (NM)
WHEREAS, always-on broadband access is essential to taking full advantage of the Internet, access content at reasonable speeds, stream video, rely robustly on email, and access feature-rich websites, this particularly enhances educational opportunities for our youth; and,
WHEREAS, in 2016 the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reported that 43% of the nation’s lowest income households cannot afford modern broadband service;  and,
WHEREAS, the cost to deploy broadband networks to rural areas is significant, as topography and low population density are major hurdles to such deployment;  and, 
WHEREAS, a 2016 report from the American Community Survey (ACS) found that rural populations in general had a poverty rate of 16.9%, compared to the 13.6 rate of urban populations;  and,
WHEREAS, 47% of Hispanic children born in rural areas are poor compared to 41% those born in urban areas;  and,
WHEREAS, as of 2016 only 61% of the United States’ rural population had access to broadband Internet at speeds of 25/3 Mbps for fixed terrestrial or 10/3 Mbps for wireless, compared to 90% of urban people;  and, 
WHEREAS, Internet use among Spanish-dominant Hispanic households doubled to 74% between 2009 and 2015 and rose to 78% (from 51%) among immigrant Hispanics; but, immigrant and rural  Hispanics subscribe at less than half the rate of US born Hispanics or English-dominant households; and,
WHEREAS, in 2016, NHCSL adopted Resolution 2016-05, Urging the FCC to Modernize the Lifeline Program to Address the Homework Gap, and the FCC indeed took significant steps to modernize its Lifeline program later that year, but, even the modernized assistance program does not go far enough in connecting low income Americans due to the small monetary assistance it provides;  and, 
WHEREAS, the FCC released the Technology Transitions Order in 2014, which implemented a broadband experiment program providing funding for 14 different companies to offer broadband services, either wired or wireless, into rural areas of multiple states to better understand the impact of technology transitions on rural America and promoted competition between broadband rural providers, but the Order allowed deployment of services that do not meet the FCC’s own 25 Mbps minimum threshold for broadband. Many companies offered bids and contracts that were awarded in 2015 & 2016 and the results of the experiment are still pending, but this program only impacts a small number of communities that still lack broadband service;  and, 
WHEREAS, the Connect America Fund universal service program administered by the FCC is directing approximately $4.5 billion per year to address broadband availability needs throughout the United States; and, 
WHEREAS, the FCC plans to redirect $4.93 billion over 10 years, from the Connect America Fund budget, to support 4G LTE mobile wireless services in areas that lack 4G LTE in the United States, with support to be awarded through a Mobility Fund Phase II reverse auction; and,
WHEREAS, in 2015, NHCSL also adopted Resolution 2015-03, Increased Usage for Mobile Technology Will Require Additional Spectrum Deployment, that “calls upon Members of Congress of the United States to enact legislation promptly to reallocate government-held wireless spectrum for commercial use and to seek innovative ways to meet current and future wireless needs for all Americans;” and,
WHEREAS, the proposed bipartisan Advancing Innovation and Reinvigorating Widespread Access to Viable Electromagnetic Spectrum (AIRWAVES) Act  mandates the FCC to hold such auctions in the Mid and High spectrum bands and allocate 10% of their proceeds to expanding wireless infrastructure in rural areas that are underserved or unserved; and, 
WHEREAS, the proposed AIRWAVES Act further orders the FCC to conduct a study on how unlicensed frequency spectrum bands can be utilized for the provision of healthcare in rural areas, distance learning, and facilitating innovations in agriculture; and,
WHEREAS, radio and television broadcasters, as well as cable providers, rely on satellite systems (C-Band) for reliable distribution of programming content, the proposed AIRWAVES Act should ensure that incumbent providers are protected from interference through shared use of satellite bands and any related costs to moving or altering services to ensure the continued availability of programming to local communities; and,
WHEREAS, concerns have been raised regarding the non-discriminatory allocation of the 10% of the auction proceeds, and other such funding, particularly regarding the ethnic and racial makeup and political leanings, of rural communities.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators recognizes the importance of affordable, reliable access to both fixed and wireless high-speed broadband Internet to all Americans and the importance of implementing safeguards that ensure federal funds are allocated in a manner that encourages investment in unserved areas to ensure that communities with the most need are properly served; and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators encourages state legislative assemblies to enact legislation that works with the market in a competitively neutral and efficient manner to foster private sector investment and innovation to encourage the expansion of affordable broadband Internet services into unserved areas across the United States; and,
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators encourages state legislators to open legislative investigations and public hearings to determine how to best provide unserved Hispanic and rural communities with access to broadband; and, 
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators supports the bipartisan AIRWAVES Act, so that mobile providers can deploy their 5G networks to rural America, and encourages Congress and the Federal Communications Commission to go further in helping to ease the cost burden of broadband Internet access on low-income earners and rural communities by fostering private sector efforts to increase broadband availability in unserved areas, increasing the amount of monetary assistance received through the Lifeline program and other measures; and, 
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that while the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators supports the AIRWAVES Act, given the reliance of low income and rural minorities on free over the air television, we also encourage the Congress to ensure adequate measures are adopted to protect existing users of these frequencies to deliver video programming; and, 
BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators calls upon all policymakers to ensure that all broadband deployment, and any funding or benefits related to it, are free of discrimination on the basis of a community’s demographics, particularly its ethnic and racial makeup or political leanings.