Last year, a few months after the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., tried to pass a bill that would have provided rural communities across the country with affordable high-speed internet to help with remote schooling and work.
But with a Republican majority in the Senate, the House majority whip’s bill was stymied.
Now, with a Democratic majority in both chambers, Clyburn reintroduced the bill as the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act on March 11. It authorizes over $94 billion to ensure both underserved and unserved communities have affordable high-speed internet access.
Clyburn told The Post and Courier the measure will be particularly helpful for rural South Carolinians, including telehealth.
“Broadband is the one thing that can change the character of almost any community,” Clyburn said. “We want to make broadband accessible and affordable for every home in America. And this deal will do that.”
With Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minnesota, introducing companion legislation in the Senate, the bill will likely be carried across the finish line.
“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for all Americans,” Klobuchar said in a media statement. “In 2021, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code.”
Clyburn has long pushed to address broadband deficits and formed a task force in Congress to specifically focus on the issue last year. In 2020, he also managed to get every member of South Carolina’s congressional delegation to sign a letter saying the issue should be made a priority.
But the bill didn’t see movement, even as the pandemic underscored the need for internet access.
Clyburn said his Republican colleagues from South Carolina support the bill, but he is unsure what they’ll do when the bill comes to the floor.
“They’re all for it,” Clyburn said. “But that’s not saying they’re all going to vote for it.”
Clyburn’s bill calls for:
- $80 billion to deploy secure and resilient broadband infrastructure for communities nationwide.
- $5 billion over five years for low-interest financing of broadband deployment.
- $6 billion for the recently established Emergency Broadband Benefit, which provides a $50 monthly discount on internet plans for low-income Americans anywhere in the country, or $75 for consumers on tribal lands.
- $1 billion to establish two new grant programs, which will help Americans build digital skills.
- $2 billion for the Emergency Connectivity Fund, which provides for home internet for students or mobile hotspots.
The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is the latest in several legislative pushes the longtime congressman has made in recent weeks as he capitalizes on the Democratic majority in Washington, D.C., and utilizes his relationship with President Joe Biden to bring his bills across the finish line.
“Now, we have some semblance of authority and power in the House and we have the votes in the Senate for it to become law,” Clyburn said. “And we got a person in the White House to sign it. So you might hear some giddiness in my voice.”
Posted by the Post and Courier