Connectivity

Senate bill to fund internet affordability program hits major roadblock

Commerce Committee leaders feud over dueling legislation, “culture wars.”
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Another legislative attempt at reviving the Affordable Connectivity Program appears to be fizzling.

Sen. Maria Cantwell recently announced that a disagreement with Sen. Ted Cruz has left her Spectrum and National Security Act, which could have infused the program with more cash, floundering.

“I hope my colleagues will stop with obstructing and get back to negotiating on the important legislation that will deliver these national security priorities, and help Americans continue to have access to something as essential as affordable broadband,” she said in a June 18 Senate floor speech.

Cantwell, a Washington State Democrat, introduced the bill in late April, as the ACP was running on fumes. It would’ve renewed the Federal Communications Commission’s authority to auction off valuable swaths of the airwaves, and in turn, dedicated some of those proceeds to tech development and access programs like the ACP. At its height, the pandemic-era program connected 23 million Americans with discounted internet service.

Cantwell noted in her floor speech that the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Commerce publicly expressed support for the bill. That wasn’t enough to push the legislation forward, however, after a markup session was postponed for a fourth time.

Cantwell blamed Cruz (R-TX), the Senate Commerce Committee’s ranking member who has his own spectrum auction bill, for obstructing her legislation even after the committee reached bipartisan compromises on its language.

“We had a chance to secure affordable broadband for millions of Americans, but Senator Cruz said ‘no,’” Cantwell said in a written statement. “He said ‘no’ to securing a lifeline for millions of Americans who rely on the Affordable Connectivity Program to speak to their doctors, do their homework, connect to their jobs and stay in touch with loved ones—including more than 1 million Texans.”

In a statement, Cruz said Cantwell’s bill provides “free internet to illegal aliens, millions to antisemitic colleges, and billions to mega-corporations with no strings attached,” The Hill reported.

Rebutting his comments, Cantwell criticized Cruz for engaging in “culture wars” instead of investing in programs to help constituents.

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