Lawmakers looking to provide internet access, broadband to more rural areas

ATLANTA — Despite the push to more virtual living during the pandemic, millions of Americans still lack access to a reliable and high-speed internet or phone service.

A House subcommittee discussed several bills on Tuesday aimed at standardizing and improving broadband access, no matter where you live.

“As demand for wireless technology grows, we need to adapt,” said Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodger, R-W.A.

The Simplifying Management, Reallocation, and Transfer of Spectrum Act, also known as the SMART Act, would require a standardized framework for the sharing of spectrum between federal and nonfederal entities.

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Another bill would require the Federal Communications Commission and the Secretary of Agriculture to submit a yearly report to Congress on enrollment for the Lifeline Program, which provides discounted phone service to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.

The purpose of the annual report is to make sure people who are eligible for the program are actually signing up and benefiting from it.

“The data demonstrates that only a fraction of lifeline eligible individuals enroll in the program,” said Rep. Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J.

Another proposal focuses on improving internet access to people living in areas where mobile connectivity may not be available.

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“Access to high-speed internet is a civil right,” said Alisa Valentin, senior director of technology and telecommunications policy at the National Urban League. “Nearly 47 million people in the United States are left offline because they are unable to afford broadband, and this disproportionately affects Black and Latinx adults.”

Lawmakers are also considering legislation to protect survivors of domestic violence who share family plans with their abuser.

The Safe Connections Act of 2022 requires mobile service providers to separate the line of the survivor who requested the change, without financial penalties.

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