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WASHINGTON - U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew (R-2nd) has introduced a telecommunications legislative package in the House of Representatives focused on addressing the needs of South Jersey residents and underserved communities who have experienced increased costs imposed by their internet provider.

According to a release, the series of bills are aimed at expanding broadband access and availability in underserved communities, limiting rate increases and data caps imposed by internet providers, and lowering out-of-pocket costs for consumer equipment.

H.R. 2665 would direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to create a state-run grant program available to small business broadband providers to expand service to rural and underserved areas, where internet service remains uncompetitive. 

Earlier this year, Comcast announced it would impose a data cap on consumers and subsequently raise service fees during the ongoing Covid pandemic. In response to the public outcry following their announcement, Comcast reversed that policy and delayed any potential rate hikes until 2022. 

H.R. 2666, which is part of this legislative package, would prohibit broadband internet providers, such as Comcast, from increasing rates or enforcing data caps or allowances during an emergency or major disaster, such as the Covid pandemic, by amending the Communications Act of 1934.

The third bill would provide relief to consumers who opt to rent, for example, an internet modem or router due to the high up-front cost of the equipment. H.R. 2667 would ensure that providers cannot charge consumers a higher cost for renting broadband equipment than the cost of the equipment itself. 

“The fabric of American society is woven together by many important threads, not the least of which is the internet," Van Drew stated. "For the better part of the last year, a simple internet connection empowered some of the most meaningful moments of our lives; parents and children could keep up with work and school, patients utilized telemedicine to receive care from their doctors, and older Americans were able to stay connected with their loved ones. The pieces of legislation I have introduced are commonsense and will ensure Americans in underserved communities can enjoy the same benefits the rest of America does while preventing companies from imposing rate hikes or data caps during disaster events where an internet connection could mean the difference between life or death."