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

Bill provides up to $15 billion in matching grants to help bring high-speed Internet directly to homes and businesses

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a renewed urgency to ensuring Mainers have a reliable connection to family, friends, co-workers, schools, and medical services.

 

Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Jacky Rosen (D-NV) introduced the American Broadband Buildout Act (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. 

 

The legislation would help close the “digital divide” between urban and rural America by providing up to $15 billion in matching grants to assist states and state-approved entities build the “last-mile” infrastructure to bring high-speed broadband directly to homes and businesses in areas that lack it. The current pandemic has brought these connectivity challenges into stark relief as many Americans have had to move their studies, health care services, and workplaces online.

 

Projects must be located in “unserved” areas, where broadband is unavailable at speeds that meet the FCC’s standard. Focusing on those areas will direct support where it is needed most, and will protect against “over-building” where broadband infrastructure is already in place. Additionally, the federal funding authorized in this bill would be matched through public-private partnerships between the broadband service provider and the home state. This means that states and their private sector partners will have “skin in the game,” so that projects will be well thought-out and sustainable.

 

“As a native of Aroostook County, I know how important high-speed Internet is to the vitality of rural communities,” said Senator Collins.  “The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a renewed urgency to ensuring families have a reliable connection to their loved ones, co-workers, schools, and medical services.  From spurring job creation to supporting telemedicine, access to high-speed Internet unlocks almost endless benefits and possibilities.  Our bipartisan bill can help bridge the digital divide between urban and rural America by bringing broadband directly to homes and businesses in areas that lack it.”

 

“Access to fast, reliable broadband is critical for families all across the state of Nevada -- including in our rural communities -- to do everything from attending school online to conducting business,” said Senator Rosen. “I’m proud to co-sponsor this bipartisan legislation which would help ensure broadband access for Nevada’s rural communities and help to improve quality of life during this challenging time.”

 

The bill has been endorsed by the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, the Telecommunications Association of Maine, and Mission Broadband.

 

“The American Broadband Buildout Act would provide a much-needed boost to small businesses throughout Maine, providing them with the high-speed Internet access they need to stay connected and competitive,” said Dana Connors, President and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce.  “We thank Senator Collins for her continued efforts to support Maine’s rural communities and small businesses as we work to rebuild our economy and expand our broadband infrastructure.”

 

“We are pleased that Senators Collins and Rosen introduced the American Broadband Buildout Act, legislation that will help deploy more broadband networks in rural areas,” NCTA said in a statement. “Through programs specifically targeted at extending high-speed internet to communities that are not yet connected, it is good to see emphasis on directing funds to areas that need help the most. In addition, the legislation ensures appropriate guardrails are in place with a challenge process to assist with accountability. As this new Congress begins, we look forward to working with Senators Collins, Rosen and other members on ways to close the digital divide all across America.”

 

“The Telecommunications Association of Maine (TAM) is dedicated to bringing affordable broadband service to rural customers throughout the State,” said Benjamin Sanborn, Executive Director of the Telecommunications Association of Maine. “Senator Collins’ bill will provide a much needed investment in rural networks to bring the benefits of Telehealth, distance learning, and remote workforces, to rural customers.  By establishing a partnership with providers, this bill uses public dollars to leverage private investment to build up the economies of some of the areas most hard hit by the pandemic in a sustainable way that ensures accountability and efficiency.  Working together States, communities, and providers can close the homework gap and build networks that will close the digital divide.  This bill is an important step forward for broadband investment and TAM applauds Senator Collins for her leadership on this issue.”

 

“Mission Broadband supports and applauds the leadership of Senator Collins in the creation of the American Broadband Buildout Act of 2021,” said Jim Rogers, President of Mission Broadband. “The $15B program will expand much needed broadband to our residents who continue to struggle with insufficient broadband connectivity.  The framework for the expansion is clearly defined in the Act, including defined minimum broadband standards, public-private partnerships for funding and prioritization of unserved and underserved areas or our country.”

 

The American Broadband Buildout Act would:

 

·         Require that projects that receive funding 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, local, and private sector partners, along with 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.

 

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