WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Rep. James Clyburn (D–South Carolina) reintroduced the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act (AAIA). He first unveiled the legislation last June and the House of Representatives passed it in July as part of the Moving Forward Act.
The AAIA is expected to move in tandem with broader infrastructure proposals emanating from the House and the Biden administration. The lead sponsor of the Senate companion bill is Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D–Minnesota).
The AAIA is the product of a task force Rep. Clyburn organized, working on broadband proposals in coordination with the House Energy and Commerce Committee and Senate counterparts. The effort was spurred by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s prioritization of broadband access and equity as a centerpiece of House Democrats’ infrastructure proposals.
Free Press Action Vice President of Policy and General Counsel Matt Wood made the following statement:
“The AAIA passed the House last year in much the same form. This pivotal legislation would have become law then if last year’s Senate majority were serious about affordable and universal internet access.
“This landmark broadband package is just as necessary as ever. It builds on the passage of the Emergency Broadband Benefit in the December stimulus bill and the emergency-connectivity fund for remote learning included in the American Rescue Plan passed just this week. The AAIA supplements and extends the funding for both of those vital programs.
“We’ve learned a lot over the past year, and the pandemic has ended the debate about the value of internet access. We know that broadband is an essential utility during times of national emergency and all other times too — a service that federal and local governments have an obligation to help provide to those who can’t afford the cost of getting connected.
“The bill’s affordability measures are crucial, even though the bulk of the spending in an infrastructure bill naturally goes to constructing new networks. The majority of people disconnected today are offline not because they can’t find broadband in their neighborhoods but because they can’t afford the cost. This affordability gap disproportionately impacts communities of color facing systemic discrimination and economic injustice.
“Beyond its innovative ideas for funding new networks, the AAIA addresses the fact that infrastructure does little good when people don’t have choices about what to buy, information about what it truly costs them and the ability to pay that price.
“The legislation also requires the FCC to collect pricing data so we can finally assess what people really pay for broadband, and understand when and where they’re priced out of this essential service. It mandates improved transparency and clarity in how service providers communicate those terms of service to their customers. And it includes a host of important investments in digital equity and inclusion while also removing legislative obstacles faced by communities seeking to build and operate their own municipal and cooperative broadband networks.
“These kinds of smart public investments in broadband affordability and choice will ensure that the initial down payment on closing the digital divide in recent COVID relief bills is supported by enough funding and forward thinking to finish the job.”