Good News From the FCC

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For rural areas such as ours, safe and reliable methods of telecommunications are vital. We count on them to stay connected with each other, foster new economic opportunities, and engage with the wider world.

In the House of Representatives, where I serve on the Energy and Commerce Committee with jurisdiction over telecommunications, I fight to make sure communities such as ours are properly served.

The agency charged with carrying out the telecommunications laws passed by Congress is the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). It regulates radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable communications in the United States.

In recent weeks, it has taken several encouraging steps that will contribute to expanded and improved telecommunications services in the Ninth Congressional District of Virginia.

Broadband

Broadband Internet service is indispensable for job creation, education, and various other activities in the modern world, but many sparsely populated communities are not connected.

Closing the digital divide between rural and urban areas is a necessity, and to help achieve this goal, the FCC at its January 30 meeting established the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Its goal is to direct $20.4 billion over the next ten years to building fast broadband networks in unserved rural areas.

The first phase of this plan will begin later this year, with $16 billion in funding going to areas that are not served at all. Virginia has an estimated 217,000 home and business locations that would be eligible for Phase I of the funding.

Subsequently, $4.4 billion will be made available to support areas that enjoy partial service.

This planned investment by the FCC marks a significant commitment to addressing the needs of rural areas.

Still better, more good news on broadband may be on the way. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has announced a plan for new rules around television “white spaces” to be considered at the commission’s February meeting.

TV white spaces are unused spectrum between stations. They can be adapted for other purposes, including providing broadband services in rural areas. Chairman Pai’s plan would change the FCC’s rules on white spaces, enhancing the ability of innovators to use them for broadband delivery.

More investment and greater flexibility to use white spaces will help connect rural areas. What are some of the possible benefits? More appeal to businesses and job creators to locate here. Greater availability to educational resources. Aid to farmers via precision agriculture.

I will note in particular one benefit: increased use of telehealth, which can make it easier for patients to check in with their health care providers and thus support better outcomes.

I have championed telehealth as a health care solution in our area, and the FCC last year even made the announcement in Carroll County of its plans for a $100 million Connected Care Pilot Program. Better broadband access will also serve the purpose of expanding telehealth’s reach.

The FCC under Chairman Pai has shown a true commitment to closing the digital divide, and I applaud their efforts.

Robocalls

In contrast to broadband, where the problem is a lack of access, the problem with our telephones lately is that they are being abused by illegal robocalls.

This was a problem that received bipartisan attention in Congress and in the Energy and Commerce Committee. We passed the Pallone-Thune TRACED Act last year, and President Trump signed it into law.

The FCC is one of the agencies charged with executing this law. It has urged phone companies to allow tracing of robocalls from foreign sources and moved toward selecting an entity to lead efforts in the private sector to trace illegal robocalls.

The U.S. Department of Justice, which also has responsibility to enforce the TRACED Act, filed actions against entities facilitating illegal robocalls.

These actions are important. Although passage of the TRACED Act was a significant achievement against illegal robocalls, it will not get rid of them overnight. Success will depend on enforcement. I am glad to see federal agencies taking steps to carry out the law.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405, my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671, or my Washington office at 202-225-3861. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also, on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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