Text: S.3820 — 109th Congress (2005-2006)All Information (Except Text)

There is one version of the bill.

Text available as:

Shown Here:
Introduced in Senate (08/03/2006)


109th CONGRESS
2d Session
S. 3820


To expand broadband access for rural Americans.


IN THE SENATE OF THE UNITED STATES

August 3, 2006

Mr. Durbin introduced the following bill; which was read twice and referred to the Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation


A BILL

To expand broadband access for rural Americans.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,

SECTION 1. Short title.

This Act may be cited as the “Broadband for Rural America Act of 2006”.

SEC. 2. Findings.

Congress finds the following:

(1) High speed broadband communications is no longer a luxury. It has become a vital service for all Americans, much like water, sewer, gas, and electricity are essential resources for our daily lives.

(2) Broadband infrastructure is critical to community and economic development, by encouraging investment, creating jobs, improving productivity, fostering innovation, and increasing consumer benefits.

(3) Despite the ongoing efforts by traditional communications carriers to expand broadband services, the rate of deployment in America is still far from ideal. Recent reports indicate that America continues to trail other leading industrialized countries, per capita, in the availability and use of broadband communications.

(4) As our Nation falls behind the developed world in broadband access, so, too, are rural residents falling behind city and urban residents. In small towns and rural America, broadband service remains largely non existent. In places where it is available, rural broadband customers often pay more for inferior quality than customers in cities and urban areas.

(5) A national policy is needed to accelerate the deployment of broadband services so that, no matter where they live, every American can have access to affordable and high-quality broadband service as soon as possible.

SEC. 3. Purpose.

The purposes of this Act are to encourage the rapid deployment of high quality and affordable high speed broadband service to every corner of our Nation by—

(1) establishing a new source of funding for entities that work to identify unserved regions of the Nation and to address the lack of broadband service in those areas;

(2) reforming the rural broadband loan program to ensure that Federal funds are provided only to qualified entities that will serve truly rural and unserved regions of the Nation, while providing statutory authority and Federal funding for the rural broadband grant program;

(3) making more unlicensed spectrum available for innovative wireless broadband uses that will not cause harmful interference and degradation of service to other wireless services;

(4) encouraging rural, regional, and smaller wireless carriers to enter the wireless broadband market by reconfiguring the size of spectrum auctions into smaller market sizes; and

(5) studying policies and programs adopted by State and local governments that have worked to provide incentives for rapid broadband deployment.

SEC. 4. Broadband Access Trust Fund and Office of Broadband Access.

(a) Establishment.—

(1) FUND ESTABLISHED.—There is established in the Treasury of the United States the Broadband Access Trust Fund.

(2) OFFICE ESTABLISHED.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—There is established within the Federal Communications Commission the Office of Broadband Access.

(B) DUTIES.—The Office of Broadband Access shall coordinate the use of all resources within the Fund, as such resources relate to the expansion of broadband technology into rural or unserved areas.

(3) DEPOSITS.—The Fund shall consist of—

(A) the amounts appropriated pursuant to subsection (f); and

(B) 1 percent of the proceeds of any auction for any bands of frequencies conducted pursuant to section 309(j) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 309(j)).

(4) FUND AVAILABILITY.—

(A) APPROPRIATION.—There are appropriated from the Fund such sums as are authorized by the board to be disbursed for grants under this section.

(B) REVERSION OF UNUSED FUNDS.—Any grant proceeds that remain unexpended at the end of the grant period, as determined under subsection (c)(3), shall revert to and be deposited in the Fund.

(b) Board of directors.—

(1) ESTABLISHMENT.—The Fund shall be administered by the Office of Broadband Access, in consultation with a board of directors comprised of 5 members, appointed by the Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, with experience in 1 or more of the following fields:

(A) Grant and investment management.

(B) Advanced communications technology.

(C) Rural communications services.

(D) Community-based economic development.

(2) FUNCTIONS.—The board shall—

(A) establish reasonable and prudent criteria for the selection of grant recipients under this section;

(B) determine the amount of grants awarded to such recipients; and

(C) review the use of grant funds by such recipients.

(3) COMPENSATION PROHIBITED; EXPENSES PROVIDED.—The members of the board shall serve without compensation, but may, from appropriated funds available for the administrative expenses of the Federal Communications Commission, receive travel expenses, including per diem in lieu of subsistence, in accordance with applicable provisions under subchapter I of chapter 57 of title 5, United States Code.

(c) Purpose and activities of the fund.—

(1) GRANT PURPOSES.—In order to achieve the objectives and carry out the purposes of this section, the Office of Broadband Access is authorized to make grants, from amounts deposited pursuant to subsection (a)(2) and from the interest or other income derived from the Fund—

(A) to study the lack of affordable broadband communications services in particular unserved regions of the nation, particularly in rural areas; and

(B) to take steps toward providing such services to such regions.

(2) GRANT PREFERENCE.—In making grants from the Fund, the Office of Broadband Access shall give preference to eligible individuals or entities that are proposing rural or community-based partnerships to encourage economic development in unserved regions of the nation, particularly in rural areas.

(3) GRANT AVAILABILITY.—Grants from the Fund shall be made available on a single or multi-year basis to facilitate long term planning.

(d) Eligible entities.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The following organizations and entities are eligible to apply for funds under this section:

(A) An agency or instrumentality of a State or local unit of government (including an agency or instrumentality of a territory or possession of the United States).

(B) A nonprofit agency or organization that is exempt from taxes under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 (26 U.S.C. 501(c)(3)).

(C) An institution of higher education.

(D) Any legally organized incorporated organization or other legal entity, including a cooperative, a private corporation, or a limited liability company.

(2) PREFERENCE.—

(A) NONLICENSED ENTITIES.—In determining which legally organized incorporated organizations or other legal entities shall receive grants from the Fund, the Office of Broadband Access shall give preference to those organizations and entities that are not already licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to provide voice, data, video, or other communications or information services.

(B) SECONDARY PRIORITY FOR ALREADY LICENSED ENTITIES.—The Office of Broadband Access shall only award grants from the Fund to those organizations and entities that are already licensed by the Federal Communications Commission to provide voice, data, video, or other communications or information services only after all applications by nonlicensed organizations described in subparagraph (A) have been considered.

(e) Permissible uses of Funds.—Amounts made available by grants from the Fund under this section may be used by eligible entities for conducting feasibility studies, mapping, economic analysis, and other activities done to determine—

(1) the reasons for the lack of affordable broadband communications services in particular unserved regions of the nation, particularly in rural areas; and

(2) the scale, scope, and type of broadband services most suitable for each particular unserved area.

(f) Authorization of appropriations.—There are authorized to be appropriated to the Fund $10,000,000 for fiscal year 2007 and each of the 5 succeeding fiscal years.

(g) Reports.—

(1) BY GRANT RECIPIENTS.—Each grant recipient shall submit to the Federal Communications Commission and the board a report on the use of the funds provided by the grant.

(2) BY FCC.—

(A) IN GENERAL.—The Federal Communications Commission shall annually submit to Congress a report on the operations of the Fund and the grants made by the Fund.

(B) REQUIRED CONTENT.—The report required under subparagraph (A) shall include—

(i) an identification of the grants made, the recipients thereof, and the planned uses of the amounts made available;

(ii) a financial report on the operations and condition of the Fund; and

(iii) a description of the results of the use of funds provided by grants under this section, including the status of broadband availability in the regions covered by such grants.

(C) INFORMATION REQUIRED.—

(i) IN GENERAL.—The Federal Communications Commission shall revise FCC Form 477 reporting requirements not later than 180 days after the date of enactment of this Act to require broadband service providers to report the following information:

(I) Identification of location where the provider provides broadband service to customers, identified by zip code plus 4 digit location (referred to in this subparagraph as “service area”).

(II) Percentage of residential households and businesses in each service area that are offered broadband service by the provider, and the percentage of such residential households and businesses that subscribe to each service plan offered.

(III) The average price per megabit of download speed and upload speed in each service area.

(IV) Identification by service area of the provider’s broadband service’s actual average throughput, and contention ratio of the number of users sharing the same line.

(ii) EXCEPTION.—The Federal Communications Commission may exempt a broadband service provider from the requirements of this subparagraph if the Federal Communications Commission determines that a provider’s compliance with the reporting requirements is cost prohibitive, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission.

(D) REPORT.—The Federal Communications Commission shall provide to Congress on an annual basis a report, using available Census Bureau data, containing the following information for each service area that is not served by any broadband service provider:

(i) Population.

(ii) Population density.

(iii) Average per capita income.

(h) Regulations.—The Federal Communications Commission may prescribe such regulations as may be necessary and appropriate to carry out this section.

(i) Definitions.—As used in this section—

(1) the term “the Fund” means the Broadband Access Trust Fund established pursuant to subsection (a); and

(2) the term “the board” means the board of directors established pursuant to subsection (b).

SEC. 5. USDA broadband program reforms.

(a) Reauthorization.—Section 601(k) of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 (7 U.S.C. 950bb(k)) is amended by striking “2007” and inserting “2012”.

(b) Clarification of eligible rural community.—Section 601(b)(2) of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 (7 U.S.C. 950bb(b)(2)) is amended to read as follows:

“(2) ELIGIBLE RURAL COMMUNITY.—The term ‘eligible rural community’ means any area of the United States that is not—

“(A) included within the boundaries of any incorporated city, village, borough, or town with a population in excess of 25,000 inhabitants;

“(B) located within 10 miles of any such city, village, borough, or town; and

“(C) an area where a majority of its residential customers have access to broadband service offered at a price per megabit of download speed and upload speed comparable to the nearest urban area.”.

(c) Additional requirements for eligible entities.—Section 601 of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 (7 U.S.C. 950bb) is amended—

(1) in subsection (c)—

(A) in paragraph (1), by striking “(1) In general.—”; and

(B) by striking paragraph (2); and

(2) in subsection (d)(1)—

(A) in subparagraph (A), by striking “; and” and inserting a semicolon;

(B) in subparagraph (B), by striking the period at the end and inserting “; and”; and

(C) by adding at the end the following:

“(C) demonstrate that any loan or loan guarantee obtained under this section will be used only to furnish, improve, or extend broadband service to those eligible rural communities.”.

(d) Community Connect Grant program.—Title VI of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 (7 U.S.C. 950bb et seq.) is amended by adding at the end the following:

“SEC. 602. Community Connect Grant program.

“(a) Purposes.—The purposes of this section are—

“(1) to provide financial assistance in the form of grants to eligible applicants that will provide, on a community-oriented connectivity basis, broadband service that fosters economic growth and delivers enhanced educational, health care, and public safety services; and

“(2) to ensure the deployment of broadband service to extremely rural, lower-income communities on a community-oriented connectivity basis.

“(b) Grants authorized.—

“(1) IN GENERAL.—The Secretary may award a grant to any eligible applicant to provide broadband services in accordance with the provisions of this section.

“(2) AWARD BASIS.—The Secretary shall award grants under this section on a competitive basis.

“(c) Eligible applicant.—To be eligible to obtain a grant under this section, an applicant shall—

“(1) be—

“(A) legally organized as an incorporated organization;

“(B) an Indian tribe or tribal organization, as defined in subsections (b) and (c) of section 4 of the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act (25 U.S.C. 450b(b) and (c));

“(C) a State or local unit of government;

“(D) an institution of higher education; or

“(E) any other legal entity, including a cooperative, a private corporation, or a limited liability company organized on a for-profit or not-for-profit basis;

“(2) have the legal capacity and authority to—

“(A) own and operate the broadband facilities proposed in its application;

“(B) enter into contracts; and

“(C) otherwise comply with applicable Federal statutes and regulations; and

“(3) develop a project that—

“(A) serves an eligible rural community;

“(B) deploys basic broadband service, free of all charges for at least 2 years, to all critical community facilities located within a proposed service area;

“(C) offers basic broadband service to residential and business customers within a proposed service area; and

“(D) provides—

“(i) a community center with at least 10 computer access points within a proposed service area; and

“(ii) broadband service to such centers free of charge for at least 2 years.

“(d) Application.—

“(1) SUBMISSION.—Each applicant seeking a grant under this section shall submit an application containing—

“(A) any information or documentation required under section 1739.15 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations; and

“(B) such other information or documentation that the Secretary may require.

“(2) REVIEW AND SCORING OF APPLICATIONS.—The Secretary shall review and score any applications received under this section using the same methods, and in the same manner, as described in sections 1739.16 and 1739.17 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations.

“(e) Use of funds.—A grant awarded to an eligible applicant pursuant to this section may be used to—

“(1) construct, acquire, or lease facilities, including spectrum, to deploy broadband service to all participating critical community facilities and all required facilities needed to offer such service to residential and business customers located within a proposed service area;

“(2) improve, expand, construct, or acquire a community center that furnishes free access to broadband service, provided that such community center is open and accessible to area residents before, during, and after normal working hours and on Saturday or Sunday;

“(3) purchase any end user equipment needed to carry out the project of the applicant described in subsection (c)(3);

“(4) pay the operating expenses incurred in providing—

“(A) broadband service to critical community facilities for the first 2 years of operation; and

“(B) training and instruction on how to use such services; and

“(5) purchase any land, building, or building construction needed to carry out the project of the applicant described in subsection (c)(3).

“(f) Matching requirement.—

“(1) IN GENERAL.—Each eligible applicant shall contribute not less than 15 percent of the grant amount requested in any application.

“(2) FORM.—The matching contribution described in paragraph (1) may be in the following form:

“(A) Cash for eligible grant purposes.

“(B) In-kind contributions for purposes that could have been financed with grant funds under this section. In-kind contributions shall be new or non-depreciated assets with established monetary values. Manufacturers’ or service providers’ discounts shall not be considered a matching contribution.

“(C) The rental value of space provided within an existing community center, provided that such space is provided free of charge to such applicant, for the first 2 years of operation.

“(D) Salary expenses incurred for any individual operating the community center, for the first 2 years of operation.

“(E) Expenses incurred in operating a community center, for the first 2 years of operation.

“(3) PRIOR COSTS.—Costs incurred by an applicant, or by others on behalf of an applicant, for facilities, installed equipment, or other services rendered prior to submission of a completed application shall not be considered an acceptable use of grant funds under subsection (e) or a matching contribution.

“(4) RENTAL VALUES.—Rental values of space provided, as described in paragraph (1)(C), shall be substantiated by rental agreements documenting the cost of space of a similar size in a similar location.

“(5) REASONABLENESS REVIEW.—Rental values, salaries, and other expenses incurred in operating a community center shall be subject to review by the Secretary for reasonableness in relation to the scope of the applicant's project described in subsection (c)(3).

“(6) OTHER ASSISTANCE.—Any financial assistance from any other Federal source shall not be considered a matching contribution under this section unless there is a Federal statutory exception specifically authorizing the Federal financial assistance to be considered as such.

“(g) Other requirements.—Each applicant shall comply with the reporting, oversight, and auditing requirements described in sections 1739.19 and 1739.20 of title 7, Code of Federal Regulations.

“(h) Definitions.—As used in this section:

“(1) BASIC BROADBAND SERVICE.—The term ‘basic broadband service’ means the broadband service level provided by an applicant at the lowest rate or service package level for residential or business customers, as appropriate, provided that such service meets the requirements of this section.

“(2) BROADBAND SERVICE.—The term ‘broadband service’ means providing an information-rate equivalent to at least 200 kilobits/second in the consumer’s connection to the network, both from the provider to the consumer (downstream) and from the consumer to the provider (upstream).

“(3) COMMUNITY CENTER.—The term ‘community center’—

“(A) means a public building, or a section of a public building with at least 10 computer access points, that is used for the purposes of providing free access to or instruction in the use of broadband service, and is of the appropriate size to accommodate this purpose; and

“(B) may include schools, libraries, or a city hall.

“(4) COMPUTER ACCESS POINT.—The term ‘computer access point’ means a computer terminal with access to basic broadband service.

“(5) CRITICAL COMMUNITY FACILITIES.—The term ‘critical community facilities’ means any public school or education center, public library, public medical clinic, public hospital, community college, public university, or any law enforcement, fire, or ambulance station in a proposed service area.

“(6) END USER EQUIPMENT.—The term ‘end user equipment’ means computer hardware and software, audio or video equipment, computer network components, telecommunications terminal equipment, inside wiring, interactive video equipment, or other facilities required for the provision and use of broadband service.

“(7) RURAL AREA.—The term ‘rural area’ means any area of the United States that is not—

“(A) included within the boundaries of any incorporated or unincorporated city, village, borough, or town with a population in excess of 25,000 inhabitants; and

“(B) located within 10 miles of any such city, village, borough, or town.

“(8) SECRETARY.—The term ‘Secretary’ means the Secretary of Agriculture.

“(9) SERVICE AREA.—The term ‘service area’ means a single community, and may include the unincorporated areas or locally recognized communities, not recognized in the most recent decennial census performed by the Bureau of the Census, located outside and contiguous to the boundaries of such community, in which the applicant proposes to provide broadband service.

“(10) SPECTRUM.—The term ‘spectrum’ means a defined band of frequencies that will accommodate broadband service.”.

SEC. 6. USDA rulemaking.

The Secretary of Agriculture shall initiate and complete a rulemaking to—

(1) consider and adopt, as necessary in the discretion of the Secretary, the recommendations set forth in audit report 09601–4–Te, issued in September 2005, entitled “Rural Utilities Service Broadband Grant and Loan Programs” by the Inspector General of the United States Department of Agriculture; and

(2) review and propose recommendations as to how to best coordinate the application process of the broadband loan and loan guarantee program under section 601 of the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 and the Community Connect Grant program under section 602 of such Act, as added by section 2 of this Act.

SEC. 7. Unlicensed devices for rural wireless broadband.

(a) Completion of order.—Not later than 18 months after date of enactment of this Act, the Federal Communications Commission shall issue a final order in the matter of Unlicensed Operation in TV Broadcast Bands, ET Docket No. 04–186.

(b) Conditions.—In completing the final order described in subsection (a), the Federal Communications Commission shall—

(1) permit certified unlicensed devices to use, in non-exclusive terms, unassigned, non-licensed television broadcast channels between 54 MHz and 698 MHz in rural areas;

(2) protect incumbent certified low power auxiliary stations from harmful interference by requiring certification of unlicensed devices prior to permitting such devices to access or use unassigned, non-licensed television broadcast channels between 54 MHz and 698 MHz in rural areas, and including in the certification proof of successful completion of laboratory and field testing by an independent laboratory demonstrating that unlicensed devices do not cause harmful interference to incumbent certified low power auxiliary stations;

(3) protect incumbent certified low power auxiliary stations from harmful interference by prohibiting certified unlicensed devices from operating on any television broadcast channel between 54 MHz and 698 MHz in rural areas already in use by an incumbent certified low power auxiliary station; and

(4) consider additional ways to protect incumbent certified low power auxiliary stations from harmful interference, such as reserving certain television broadcast channels for exclusive use by incumbent certified low power auxiliary stations.

(c) Definitions.—As used in this section:

(1) CERTIFIED UNLICENSED DEVICE.—The term “certified unlicensed device” means any unlicensed device certified under subsection (b)(2)(D) operating in a fixed location, whose primary purpose is to provide broadband service to rural areas.

(2) INCUMBENT CERTIFIED LOW POWER AUXILIARY STATION.—The term “incumbent certified low power auxiliary station” means any certified low power wireless microphone, personal wireless monitor, or other audio auxiliary equipment operating on television broadcast channels between 54 MHz and 698 MHz, used for entertainment, religious, news-gathering, governmental, business, or personal consumer purposes to provide real-time, high-quality audio transmissions over distances of approximately 100 meters.

(3) RURAL AREA.—The term “rural area” means any rural service area or rural statistical area, as defined by the Federal Communications Commission.

SEC. 8. Spectrum auction for rural wireless broadband.

Not later than February 1, 2007, the Federal Communications Commission shall initiate a proceeding—

(1) to reevaluate and reconfigure its band plans for the upper 700 MHz band (currently designated Auction 31) and for the unauctioned portions of the lower 700 MHz band (currently designated as Channel Blocks A, B, and E) so as to designate up to 12 MHz of paired recovered analog spectrum (as defined in section 309(j)(15)(C)(vi) of the Communications Act of 1934 (47 U.S.C. 309(j)(15)(C)(vi))); and

(2) to reconfigure its band plans to include spectrum to be licensed for small geographic license areas, taking into consideration the desire to promote infrastructure build-out and service to rural and insular areas and the competitive benefits, unique characteristics, and special needs of rural, regional, and smaller wireless carriers.

SEC. 9. Public-private task force on broadband initiatives.

(a) Establishment.—There is established a task force to be known as the “Rural Broadband Access Task Force” (referred to in this section as the “Task Force”).

(b) Membership.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Task Force established under this section shall be composed of 11 members, of whom—

(A) 3 shall be appointed by the President;

(B) 2 shall be appointed by the Majority Leader of the Senate;

(C) 2 shall be appointed by the minority Leader of the Senate;

(D) 2 shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives; and

(E) 2 shall be appointed by the minority Leader of the House of Representatives.

(2) QUALIFICATIONS.—The membership of the Task Force established under this section shall include—

(A) at least 6 members of whom—

(i) all shall be recognized experts in the field of communications;

(ii) 2 shall be employees of the Federal Government;

(iii) 2 shall be employees of State governments; and

(iv) 2 shall be employees of local governments;

(B) at least 1 member who shall be a representative of a consumer or public interest organization;

(C) at least 1 member who shall be a representative of interested trade associations;

(D) at least 1 member who shall be a representative of interested academic institutions; and

(E) at least 2 members all of whom shall be especially qualified to serve on the Task Force by virtue of their education, training, or experience, particularly in the field of rural communications access issues.

(3) CHAIRPERSON.—Each year, the Task Force shall elect a Chairperson from among its members.

(4) VICE CHAIR.—Each year, the Task Force shall elect a Vice Chair from among its members.

(c) Duties.—The Task Force shall—

(1) conduct a comprehensive survey of legislative, regulatory, or administrative policies or programs adopted by States to encourage rapid deployment of broadband services;

(2) study policies or programs that have been successful in providing incentives for communications carriers to deploy or expand services in areas that lacked such services before the introduction of such incentives; and

(3) study traditional incentives, such as tax credits or financial subsidies, as well as innovative efforts, including public and private partnership programs and best practices that have worked well in encouraging communications carriers to deploy or expand services in areas that lacked such services, particularly in those States with large unserved rural areas.

(d) Report.—Not later than 6 months after all the members of the Task Force have been appointed under subsection (b), the Task Force shall submit a report to Congress and to the governor of each State detailing a comprehensive list of policies and programs adopted by States that have succeeded in providing incentives for communications carriers to deploy or expand services in areas that lacked such services before the introduction of such incentives.

(e) Working groups.—

(1) IN GENERAL.—The Task Force may establish such working groups as the Task Force determines necessary in order to assist the Task Force in carrying out this subsection.

(2) MEMBERSHIP.—Any working group established under paragraph (1) may include such members as the Task Force determines necessary, including individuals who were not appointed as a member of the Task Force under subsection (b).

(f) Authorization of appropriations.—There are authorized to be appropriated such sums as are necessary to carry out this section.