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Johnson, Brown introduce broadband legislation proposals

WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, introduced the Wireless Broadband Competition and Efficient Deployment Act this week as part of what he said is an effort to bring reliable broadband service to rural areas.

The legislation is part of an Energy and Commerce broadband legislative push:

“Under the direction of House Energy and Commerce Committee Ranking Member Greg Walden, R-Oregon, Republicans on the committee came together to attack the digital divide by finding ways to improve access to rural broadband,” Johnson said in a news release. “In places like Eastern and Southeastern Ohio, there is great demand for reliable broadband that would open the doors for businesses, schools and homes to grow and revitalize our region of the country.”

Johnson said the bill declares that collocations of wireless facilities are a category of activities to be excluded from the requirement to prepare an environmental or historic preservation review.

“This eliminates these burdensome reviews that are often repetitive and that unnecessarily slow down broadband expansion,” Johnson said. “Reliable broadband expansion and efficiency must go hand in hand. While we strive to reach underserved communities, we must also streamline the process to get them served as quickly as possible. The economic growth and opportunities of rural America and Eastern and Southeastern Ohio depends on it.”

While in the Senate, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, legislation with Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, that he said would make sure Ohioans have reliable broadband internet access to work, go to school, speak with healthcare providers and stay connected with loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic

Brown hosted a news conference with reporters on the legislation on Wednesday.

He said the Emergency Broadband Connections Act would help Ohioans who have been laid-off or furloughed due to the coronavirus pandemic and low-income Ohioans who are harmed by the digital divide.

“The better your Internet connection, the better you’re able to protect yourself — you need broadband to apply for unemployment, or to order groceries, or to have a telemedicine appointment,” Brown said. “But thousands of Ohioans don’t have a reliable internet connection. It’s either not available where they live, or it’s prohibitively expensive. As we talk about ways to both get through this pandemic, and build a more just country that works for everyone, internet access must be part of our efforts.”

He said Ohioans who live in low-income areas are too often at an economic and educational disadvantage due to little or no access to reliable broadband Internet service.

Specifically, Brown’s Emergency Broadband Connections Act would:
• Entitle households in which a member has been laid off or furloughed to a $50 benefit to put toward the monthly price of internet service and require internet service providers to serve eligible households at a price reduced by an amount up to the emergency benefit.
• Trigger eligibility for the benefit based on qualification for the Lifeline program, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), or Federal Pell Grants.
• Provide devices such as laptop or desktop computers or tablets to eligible households to ensure these families have the devices they need to look for a job, complete online homework assignments or receive telehealth service.
• Require Lifeline service providers to make unlimited minutes and data available to those that currently rely on the Lifeline program to stay connected to phone or internet service, and provide additional support.

In the coming days, Brown said he also plans to introduce bipartisan legislation to help rural communities that lack the infrastructure necessary to make broadband services available to residents.