The House Energy and Commerce Committee approved HR 3994, the Access Broadband Act this week. The bill, introduced by Representatives Paul Tonko (D-New York) and Leonard Lance (R-New Jersey), would establish the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth (OICG) within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).
OICG would streamline the federal funding application process for projects that expand broadband access. The office would consult with agencies offering federal broadband support programs to help streamline applications across the federal government. The goal of the office would be to standardize the application process for broadband programs such as the Rural Broadband Access Loans and Loan Guarantees program at the Rural Utilities Service. To the greatest extent possible, the office would create a single application for these broadband funding programs. If the bill is signed into law, OICG would track rural broadband programs that receive federal funding, the economic impact of broadband expansion, and progress towards closing the digital divide.
Next week, the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology will hold a hearing entitled “Realizing the Benefits of Rural Broadband: Challenges and Solutions.” Subcommittee Chair Marsha Blackburn (R-Tennessee) will further examine the financial and regulatory barriers to rural broadband deployment, and any possible legislative solutions.