Senators Collins, Jones Introduce Legislation to Increase Access to Broadband Services to Rural Americans

Senator Collins spoke from the Senate floor today urging her colleagues to support the American Broadband Buildout Act of 2019, which would help unlock the economic and telehealth benefits of the Internet for rural communities

Click HERE to read Senator Collins’ floor statement

Click HERE to watch Senator Collins’ floor statement.  Click HERE for high-resolution.

 

Washington, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Doug Jones (D-AL) introduced the American Broadband Buildout Act of 2019 (ABBA), a bipartisan bill to ensure that rural Americans have access to broadband services at speeds they need to fully participate in the modern society and economy by directing the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to provide up to $5 billion in matching grants to help states improve broadband infrastructure.

 

Increased download speeds by the FCC allow Americans to not only watch their favorite movies on demand, but also to unlock the Internet’s economic benefits, work from home, upgrade their skills through online education, stay connected to their families as they age in place, and access health care through advances in telemedicine. 

 

“As a native of Aroostook County—the largest county by land area east of the Mississippi, with fewer than 70,000 residents —I know how important health care is to the vitality of rural communities.  Often, these communities struggle to attract and retain the physicians that they need to ensure access to quality care for their citizens.  Broadband can help bridge the gap by enabling innovative health care delivery in these rural communities,” said Senator Collins.  “Our bipartisan bill would help rural communities access high-speed Internet and overcome this digital divide by funding broadband where it is needed most.”

 

“In too many parts of Alabama – and across the country – reliable, high-speed internet is still too hard to come by. It’s no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity for modern life. This bill will help public-private partnerships fund broadband development in the areas that need it most,” said Senator Jones.

 

Northern Light Home Care & Hospice, which has six homecare and hospice locations throughout the State of Maine, was able to use the Internet and video technology to help support a patient living on an island off the coast of Maine.  The video enabled the hospice nurses to monitor the patient’s symptoms and provide emotional support to her family. 

 

“On behalf of Northern Light Health member organizations and the patients we serve, I want to thank you for your support for the need to advance health care technology in Maine,” wrote Lisa Harvey-McPherson RN, MBA, MPPM, in a letter to Senator Collins.  “Our hospice team could be doing so much more with video and tele-monitoring technologies if Maine had better connectivity.”  

 

“The Telecommunications Association of Maine (TAM) works extensively with rural communities throughout the State. We have seen firsthand the benefits that Broadband can bring to Rural communities,” said Ben Sanborn, Executive Director of the Telephone Association of Maine (TAM).  “Senator Collins’ bill will provide meaningful support for rural communities in a way that will increase private investment while leveraging the knowledge and resources of the States.  This recognition that we are all in this together: providers; communities; States; and the federal government, has a chance to move the needle on rural broadband like no program before it has.”

 

“We welcome the introduction of the American Broadband Buildout Act of 2019 and share Senators Collins and Jones’ goal of rural broadband deployment through programs specifically targeted at extending high-speed broadband networks to those communities that are not yet connected. In particular, we appreciate the legislation’s emphasis on directing funds to areas that need them the most, as well as a requirement for the FCC to immediately improve its fixed broadband maps at a sub-census block level. We look forward to partnering with Senators Collins and Jones on solutions that will close the digital divide from Alabama to Maine and across America.” —NCTA–The Internet & Television Association

 

The American Broadband Buildout Act of 2019 would:

 

·         Require that projects that receive funding must be located in “unserved” areas, where broadband is unavailable at speeds that meet the FCC’s standard.  Narrowing the focus to these areas will ensure that the money goes where it is needed most, and will also protect against “over-building” where broadband infrastructure is already in place; 

 

·         Require that this federal funding be matched through public-private partnerships between the broadband service provider and the state in which the infrastructure project will be built.  This means that state, private sector partners, and the federal government will have a shared commitment, ensuring that projects will be well thought-out and designed to be sustainable; 

 

·         Require that projects be designed to be “future proof,” meaning that the infrastructure installed must be capable of delivering higher-speeds as broadband accelerates in the future.  This will ensure that federal tax dollars are used to help build a network that serves rural Americans now and in the future, without having to rebuild it every time technology advances; 

 

·         Direct the FCC to prioritize the funding of projects in states that have traditionally lagged behind the national average in terms of broadband subscribers and are at risk of falling further behind as broadband speeds increase; and,

 

·         Provide grants to states and state-designated entities for digital literacy and public awareness campaigns highlighting the benefits and possibilities of broadband service.