~ In hearing of the Senate Banking Committee, Warner questions Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell
on need to include broadband funding in next COVID-19 relief bill ~
WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today participated in a virtual Senate Banking Committee hearing with Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell, where he stressed the importance of including robust funding for broadband in any future COVID-19 relief package. According to current estimates, there are approximately 700,000 Virginians who still lack access to high-speed internet, which has become increasingly essential for telecommuting, distance learning, telemedicine, and more amid the COVID-19 crisis.
“I would argue, over the last eleven months, we’ve seen broadband is a necessity. I think it is absolutely COVID-19 related,” said Sen. Warner in questioning with Chairman Powell. “I hope that the current package can be changed to actually include a sizeable investment in broadband as good as our four bipartisan packages have been to date.”
He continued, “Experts like Tom Wheeler and Blair Levin have said somewhere in the $40 to $50 billion range, we can get about 97 percent coverage along with better affordability.”
In response, Chairman Powell said, “I would agree that it is a classic piece of infrastructure for the modern economy, for the service economy, for the technologically advanced economy and having it…as broadly available as possible could be a significant benefit economically.”
As a former governor and now in the Senate, Sen. Warner has long fought for increased access to broadband in the Commonwealth. In December, Sen. Warner negotiated and passed COVID-19 relief legislation that included $7 billion towards broadband, including $3.2 billion for an Emergency Broadband Benefit to help low-income families maintain their internet connections, $285 million to support broadband access in minority communities, and $300 million in broadband grants modeled on bipartisan provisions Sen. Warner drafted with his colleagues. Sen. Warner has also introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet, and has also introduced bipartisan legislation with Sens. Lindsey Graham and Tim Scott (R-SC) to establish a $10 billion Broadband Development Fund to prioritize funding for areas that currently lack service, support the deployment of advanced technologies in areas where there is the greatest need, and encourage projects that can quickly provide internet service.
According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), about 21 million Americans do not have access to 25/3 mbps internet, which is the FCC’s standard for high speed broadband. Of that 21 million, 16 million live in rural areas, while 5 million live in urban areas.