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Bennet, King, Portman, Manchin Urge Biden Administration to Create Modern, Unified Federal Broadband Standard

In Bipartisan Letter, Senators Call on Administration to Learn from Pandemic and Establish Consistent, 21st Century Definition of High-Speed Broadband 

Washington D.C.  Today, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Angus King (I-Maine), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) wrote to the Biden Administration urging it to update federal standards for high-speed broadband to reflect modern uses and align those standards across the government. 

In a letter to the Biden Administration’s top officials for federal broadband policy -- including Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, Acting Chair of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Jessica Rosenworcel, and Director of the National Economic Council Brian Deese -- the senators called on federal agencies to update broadband program speed requirements to reflect existing and anticipated uses, from two-way video conferencing to smart grids to artificial intelligence. The senators also urged the officials to work together to align the definition of what constitutes high-speed broadband across federal agencies to replace the patchwork of standards that exist today.

In the letter, the senators called on the administration to invest limited federal broadband dollars in faster and more reliable networks capable of supporting modern and future uses. Specifically, they urged the administration to set a goal of supporting networks wherever practicable and cost effective that provide, at a minimum, symmetrical speeds of 100 megabits per second (Mbps) such that all members of a typical family can be online simultaneously without issue.

“In the years ahead, emerging technologies such as cloud computing, artificial intelligence, health IoT, smart grid, 5G, virtual and augmented reality, and tactile telemedicine, will all require broadband networks capable of delivering much faster speeds, lower latency, and higher reliability than those now codified by various federal agencies,” wrote Bennet and the senators. “We must learn from our experience during the pandemic and raise federal standards for new broadband service to require low latency, high reliability, and speeds that meet our expected 21st century needs. We should also insist that new networks supported with federal funds meet this higher standard, with limited exceptions for truly hard-to-reach locations.”  

Bennet and his colleagues continued: “For years, we have seen billions in taxpayer dollars subsidize network deployments that are outdated as soon as they are complete, lacking in capacity and failing to replace inadequate broadband infrastructure. We need a new approach. We urge you to work together to establish one consistent, modern baseline definition of high-speed broadband service and underlying infrastructure specifications across the federal government and a coordinated approach to deploy funding efficiently where it is most needed.” 

Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association: “NTCA members are local providers delivering high-quality broadband that enable their rural communities to enjoy the critical advantages of broadband-enabled economic opportunities, education, health care and other vital services.  The demands placed upon broadband networks by the pandemic demonstrates that ‘just good enough’ speeds and latency are not good enough and will fall even further short of consumers’ needs in the near future.  Our nation’s federal broadband programs should aim higher and do better to drive investment that will provide the level of symmetrical speed and performance customers will need in the near future and for decades to come.  On behalf of NTCA’s members, I thank Senators Bennet, King, Portman, and Manchin for their letter highlighting the importance of aligning federal broadband program speed definitions and updating speed requirements to reflect modern broadband demands.” 

Bennet has helped lead the effort to bridge America’s digital divide. During the pandemic, he has consistently called for more funding and flexibility for the FCC’s E-Rate program to connect low-income students online. He called on the country’s top internet companies to keep families connected and waive data caps for the duration of the pandemic. Last June, Bennet and Senator King introduced the BRIDGE Act to deploy affordable, high-speed broadband to unserved communities nationwide. Bennet also co-sponsored the Emergency Broadband Connections Act, which passed as part of the 2020 end-of-year relief bill and will now provide $3.2 billion to help economically distressed Americans afford broadband connections.