House Majority Whip Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) says he plans to reintroduce the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act, “hopefully within the next couple of weeks.” He said during an INCOMPAS Policy Summit yesterday, he’s talking with everybody he thinks he should speak with, including the White House, to try and get the measure that would devote $100 billion to broadband investment included in any infrastructure package. INCOMPAS is the internet and competitive networks association.
“I sincerely believe we’ve got to treat the information highway the same as an interstate highway,” said Clyburn. INCOMPAS members Crown Castle and Granite Telecommunications pledged to work with Clyburn and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS) to bring broadband to rural America. They spoke during a session entitled: “Internet for All.”
Crown Castle President/CEO Jay Brown described his company’s focus. First, federal grants should be provided to states and local governments to help safely expedite broadband deployment to all. “We’re a big advocate of ensuring that we fund unserved and underserved communities,” he said. “We think [that] will foster innovation, bring new technologies and allow the best in our country to thrive and help close the homework gap.”
Crown Castle also supports increasing the FCC’s E-Rate funding and the flexibility of that money; E-Rate provides money to schools to ensure broadband access. “We’re excited to advocate for it but we’re also excited to use our capital to come alongside and invest in these opportunities,” he said.
Crown Castle will invest over $2 billion in broadband deployment this year, according to Brown. Brown called trying to connect every American a “moon shot. As we advocate for federal grants to local communities, one of the ways we think that could make a lot of sense [is if] we incent the communities to lower the bars and hurdles they’re putting in place to actually deploy the infrastructure, whether it’s fiber or small cells. By lowering some of those barriers, you’re reducing the cost,” said Brown. In turn, that will lower the cost of broadband to consumers.
Early on during the COVID crisis, the company donated 55,000 laptops to needy students. It also provided a hot spot to their homes.
Granite Telecommunications President Bob Hale described bringing connectivity to rural kids in several states early on in the crisis. “We took some of the infrastructure from the incumbents that we were allowed to wholesale and we worked with bus companies,” he said. His company installed WiFi on busses and placed them in communities that needed help.
Granite also worked with CVS to document COVID vaccinations at 71,000 senior assisted living centers in Florida. Nurses needed to document which residents and workers got a vaccine, according to Hale. “They needed fully equipped, installed and programmed [gear] within six days.” Granite’s access to communications networks helped make the documentation work and the company fulfilled the order within five days, according to the executive.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief