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2020-10

Addressing the Broadband Access Crisis by Extending Low-Income Subsidies and Maximizing Electric Infrastructure

Photo of Senator Mo Denis

Sen. Mo Denis (NV), sponsor

Sponsored by Sen. Mo Denis (NV)

Reported to the Caucus by the NHCSL Broadband and Technology Task Force
Rep. Andrés Vargas (MA), Chair

Ratified by the Caucus on December 11, 2020

WHEREAS, the COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the crucial need for affordable high-speed broadband to educate youth, telework, receive telehealth services, access jobs, remain informed and connect with family and friends; and,

WHEREAS, according to the FCC, the proportion of Americans who have access[1] to fixed terrestrial high-speed broadband service (defined as a speed of 250/25 Mbps) at home has increased rapidly to about 85% as of April 2020;[2] and,

WHEREAS, despite the increasing availability of broadband, a digital divide still remains, with data from the FCC showing that only about 73% of U.S. households subscribe to a fixed broadband connection, which has left some without home broadband during the pandemic, when the need has been most critical;[3] and,

WHEREAS, in regard to both distinct issues, the cooperation of national, state and local government with the private sector to facilitate investment in broadband infrastructure and adoption will positively impact the longevity of communities; including but not limited to, improving opportunities for local businesses, expanding the market potential to attract new businesses, expanding educational opportunities, expanding telehealth options and innovation, improving real estate values, expanding and elevating civic participation, expanding resources for elderly populations to age in place, expanding public safety applications and other municipal services, and improving overall quality of life for residents; and,

WHEREAS, low-income communities, both urban and rural, are most impacted by cost barriers for broadband services,[4] even as broadband has become as essential as, or essential to, other necessities for which the government subsidizes low-income Americans like healthcare and education; and,

WHEREAS, in 2016 we had adopted a Resolution, No. 2016-05, Urging the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to Modernize the Lifeline Program to Address the Homework Gap, specifically calling for that program “to support broadband Internet service;” and,

WHEREAS, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated this gap, with many schools struggling to offer virtual distance learning to youth in low income urban and rural communities because either the communities lack deployed broadband or the economic hardships, compounded by the pandemic, have made broadband unaffordable for some families and individuals; and,

WHEREAS, earlier this year we underscored in our Emergency Resolution 2020-02, Adjust federal relief or assistance to account for disproportionate burdens on the urban poor and other high-cost area dwellers, that in defining low-income for qualifying thresholds and benefits, policy should account for small-area cost of living;[5] and,

WHEREAS, states have used funding from the COVID-19 relief-focused CARES Act to help support broadband affordability and deployment;[6] and,

WHEREAS, regarding deployment, as we discussed in Resolution 2018-23, Call to Expand Broadband Internet Access into Rural Areas, some rural communities lack any access to high-speed broadband due to the high cost of building the necessary infrastructure, particularly critical fiberoptic cables, across sparsely populated areas of the country that do not have a high population density; and,

WHEREAS, the FCC and Congress are expected to take some important steps to address this deployment issue by helping to fund the deployment to unserved areas and removing some regulatory impediments to deployment in rural areas; and,

WHEREAS, we previously addressed the need for regulatory flexibility in the wireless side of connectivity, particularly 5G small-cell deployment, in Resolution 2016-03, Encouraging the Support of Infrastructure Buildout to Pave the Pathway for Next Generation Workers;[7] and,

WHEREAS, electric utilities have been expanding their own fiber-optic networks to support investments in advanced energy infrastructure to help provide cleaner, more reliable, and more resilient electricity to customers; and,

WHEREAS, with the support of federal, state and local governments, electric utilities could cost-effectively increase and leverage the capacity of their fiber-optic networks to accommodate broadband expansion by installing broadband fiber on existing transmission infrastructure and rights of way, thereby lowering costs for ISP’s and consumers; and,

WHEREAS, importantly, investor-owned electric companies do not intend to provide telecom services to retail customers themselves, instead potentiating the work of ISP’s large and small; and,

WHEREAS, we expect this collaboration between the telecommunications and electric sectors on access to broadband, to foster more cooperative and innovative solutions on a range of issues, including disaster response and pole attachments.

THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (NHCSL) urges the United States Congress and the President to include a technology-neutral emergency broadband benefit for low-income Americans in the next and any further rounds of stimulus, defining low-income in a way that accounts for cost of living as explained in our Resolution 2020-02;[8] and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that we renew our call on the FCC, Congress, and the President to create a permanent technology-neutral broadband subsidy for low-income Americans funded through appropriations; adding the same small area cost-of-living considerations; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NHSCL encourages ISP’s to withhold increases in pricing for internet service to families and small businesses throughout the duration of the COVID-19 public health emergency; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NHSCL encourages the U.S. Department of Education to recognize internet access as essential as transportation service to schools; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NHCSL encourages electric utilities to deploy reliable cyber-secure broadband to support new technologies and smarter energy infrastructure for the modern grid; and,

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that NHCSL also encourages utilities and public utility commissions to use electric infrastructure to assist in the deployment of broadband services to ISP’s, and through them to homes and businesses; and,

BE IT FINALLY RESOLVED, that the NHCSL Broadband and Technology Task Force shall study and consider making recommendations in 2021 regarding the prioritization of bandwidth, access to content and pricing transparency, in light of the now-confirmed essential and life-saving role of connectivity, and the public subsidies and regulatory benefits we have encouraged.

THE NHCSL EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED THIS RESOLUTION ON DECEMBER 11, 2020 AT ITS FALL MEETING HELD VIA VIDEOCONFERENCE.

THE NATIONAL HISPANIC CAUCUS OF STATE LEGISLATORS UNANIMOUSLY RATIFIED THIS RESOLUTION ON DECEMBER 11, 2020, AT THE ANNUAL MEETING HELD VIA VIDEOCONFERENCE.

[1] Access means that a household has at least one provider of high-speed broadband service in their area, but does not imply household adoption or subscription to a provider’s broadband service

[2] FCC, 2020 Broadband Deployment Report, available at https://docs.fcc.gov/public/attachments/FCC-20-50A1.pdf

[3] See Fig. 11, “Overall Adoption Rate for Fixed Terrestrial Services at Different Speed Tiers”.

[4] “The Cost of Connectivity 2020”. Available at: https://www.newamerica.org/oti/reports/cost-connectivity-2020/

[5] https://nhcsl.org/resources/resolutions/2020/2020-02/

[6] “States Tap Federal CARES Act to Expand Broadband”. PEW Trusts. Available at: https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/issue-briefs/2020/11/states-tap-federal-cares-act-to-expand-broadband

[7] https://nhcsl.org/resources/resolutions/2016/2016-03/index.html

[8] https://nhcsl.org/resources/resolutions/2020/2020-02/