Warner encourages reform to bring broadband to rural areas

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U.S. Sen. Mark Warner expressed his support for a proposed FCC rule that would clear regulatory barriers and support greater utilization of TV white space technology to bring affordable and reliable internet to millions of Americans, such as the estimated 770,000 Virginians who lack access to broadband.

In a letter, Sen. Warner commended the FCC for its Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and encouraged the Commission to swiftly adopt final rules as more Americans are forced to rely on the internet for telehealth and distance learning, among other things, in the wake of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“This digital divide impacts nearly every aspect of life for Virginians living without access to broadband, as broadband has become a precondition to meaningful participation in the digital economy. This contrast has become worryingly more stark in the last month, with an unprecedented number of Americans now heavily reliant on broadband access for telework, telehealth, and online education,” Sen. Warner wrote. “Even in normal times, this lack of broadband access prevents students from achieving their full potential, denies seniors and veterans access to telemedicine solutions that can improve care and reduce costs, prevents farmers from accessing innovative precision agriculture tools, and limits the economic potential of too many rural communities.”

According to an analysis of usage data, as many as 3.3 million Virginians do not use the internet at broadband speeds.

“In order to swiftly eliminate the digital divide, we must support sound policy that maximizes the use of innovative technologies and promotes efficient spectrum use in rural areas,” Warner continued. “The Commission’s NPRM will permit higher transmit power and higher antennas for fixed white space devices throughout rural areas. It also permits higher power mobile operations within geofenced areas and rule revisions to allow for the development of new Internet of Things-based services.”

TVWS – the inactive white space channels between active television channels – were originally created to provide a buffer between channels to prevent broadcasting interference. However, with additional capacity created by the transition to digital television and in the wake of the broadcast television incentive auction, these channels can also be used by internet service providers to provide broadband internet access in areas with scarce internet connectivity, such as rural communities.

In the letter, Sen. Warner noted that TVWS has already proven to be an effective tool in the Commonwealth. The Senator pointed to a TVWS pilot program in Claudville that connected small businesses, homes, schools and even the local post office to broadband internet. He also highlighted efforts by the Southern Virginia Homework Network, which utilized a TVWS solution to bring free broadband internet access to students in parts of Charlotte and Halifax counties.

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