If Senators Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have their way, any broadband company that wants to use federal money to provide service in rural areas must be screened very carefully.

Both senators are members of the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, and on Wednesday reintroduced the Rural Broadband Protection Act (S.275), which would require a more thorough vetting and verification process for internet service providers seeking to participate in the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) high-cost programs.

Capito said the bill would provide safeguards to high-cost programs by ensuring that funding goes to companies with both a proven track record of success and have demonstrated sound judgment in deploying in hard-to-serve areas.

“From online business startups to digital learning and telemedicine, broadband access is critical to the strength of our economy and our communities,” Capito said in announcing the bill. “That’s why I’ve made bridging the digital divide one of my top priorities in Congress.”

Capito said the legislation “expands on my broadband efforts, and is a product of many discussions I’ve had with small rural service providers and local leaders in my state.”

“These discussions made it abundantly clear the FCC needs congressional direction to ensure taxpayer money is being used properly to fund broadband deployment in rural areas,” she said. “By verifying that providers can actually deliver on the promises made to bring high-speed internet to specific areas, we can maximize the influx of broadband dollars coming to West Virginia and move closer toward our goal of closing the digital divide in communities of all sizes across our state. West Virginians keep their word, but it’s time internet service providers do the same.”

“In 2023, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every community in our country, regardless of their zip code,” Klobuchar said in a statement about the bill. “This bipartisan legislation will help Americans connect to work, school, health care and business opportunities by ensuring the companies that apply for federal funding to build out broadband infrastructure can get the job done. As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to close the digital divide and ensure families across our state can reliably access the high-speed internet they need.”

The FCC’’s high-cost programs provide funding to broadband carriers to provide service to rural areas that have historically been difficult to reach and are often located in areas where companies cannot recoup the money they spend on deploying network infrastructure and providing connectivity.

Capito said that after a series of reform orders that began in 2011, the FCC is modernizing the high-cost program to support broadband to ensure that all people in America – no matter where they live – have access to “robust, affordable connectivity to fully participate in today’s society.”

This modernized program is called the Connect America Fund, and it consists of a series of new funds that rely on incentive-based models and competitive bidding to award carriers a set amount of support to build out broadband to a defined number of locations in unserved and underserved areas.