Painted Post, N.Y. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) today announced the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act, bipartisan legislation that would help close the broadband gap in rural areas to help ensure that all New Yorkers have access to high-speed Internet. This bill would expand resources available for building high-speed broadband infrastructure by creating a new program to combine grants and loans to help finance projects serving rural and tribal areas.
“Reliable, fast internet access isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity in the 21st century economy,” said Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Lack of affordable broadband service cuts off families and businesses from critical services. The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act would give our rural communities in the Southern Tier access to the resources they need to get online and stay competitive in our digital economy. I’m proud to be working with Senator Capito on this bipartisan legislation, and I look forward to seeing it pass the Senate and ultimately become law.”
As part of her effort to make high-speed internet service available to all New Yorkers, Gillibrand is also actively calling for the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to approve a New York State waiver submitted this Fall for use of $170 million in FCC federal funding through the Connect America Fund (CAF). These funds were made available when Verizon declined to accept the allocation through the last CAF disbursement, denying the rural areas through New York State that are served by Verizon the CAF funds needed to build out improved broadband service. In a May 2016 letter to the FCC, Gillibrand requested that rather than the FCC reallocating these unclaimed funds into a national competition, these funds should remain dedicated to New York State, allowing the state to partner with the FCC in use of the funding by the state’s broadband deployment program. Gillibrand is now calling on the FCC to approve the state’s waiver request for use of these funds before the year ends.
“We care about bringing quality, family sustaining jobs to our regions through the expansion of high speed internet. It’s only right that we do our part to expand access to this critical infrastructure and level the playing field for those living in our rural communities. We are proud to stand with our bipartisan partner, Senator Gillibrand, and look forward to the improvements in our communities brought about by this proposal,” said Congressman Tom Reed.
“We believe America has no equal when it comes to technology leadership. But we also know it requires investment, commitment and resources to maintain that edge,” said Christy Pambianchi, Corning Incorporated’s senior vice president, Human Resources, who welcomed Senator Gillibrand to Sullivan Park, the company’s global R&D center. “So we applaud the Senator’s efforts to create an environment in which American innovation can thrive.”
“Broadband access is critical to economic development and quality of life in our communities,” said Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler. “Outside of our cities and villages, most residents in Steuben lack access to reliable broadband, putting our area at a clear disadvantage in comparison to urban locations. This legislation championed by Senator Gillibrand will provide critical resources for the expansion of rural access, and we thank her for the continued leadership and support.”
“This a call to action. With over 40,000 of our friends and neighbors unable to get adequate cost effective access to broadband, we will continue to fall behind in the competitive global marketplace. Our students will be challenged to keep up with their peers around the world. Our corporations, healthcare and major community anchors will continue to pay higher costs for less service than their competitors are experiencing. The Southern Tier can no longer wait for the broadband industry to figure this out. Communities must become engaged in playing a leadership role, bringing together the partnerships and resources to build the foundations needed to survive in the 21st century. The digital divide is no longer defined by those that have technology vs those that don’t, it is defined as those communities that get involved vs those that don’t,” said Joe Starks, President, ECC Technologies.
“The Southern Tier Network (STN) reached many of our goals with the remarkable contributions by Corning Incorporated and Chemung, Schuyler, and Steuben Counties. 260 miles of dark fiber now provide high speed broadband to health care systems, schools, public libraries, and carriers and service providers, which make broadband available to their customers. New York State funds are enabling STN to expand to Broome and Tioga Counties. STN’s core goal of reaching our rural businesses and citizens requires the funds that Senator Gillibrand’s bill will make available. We welcome the opportunity to bring these resources to the entire region for a competitive economy and the highest quality of life,” said Marcia D. Weber, Executive Director of the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board.
An estimated 34 million Americans do not have access to high-speed broadband internet according to the FCC. Broadband has not been adopted by about 30 percent of American households and that level is even higher in low-income communities. In rural and tribal areas, approximately 40 percent of the population does not have access to broadband. Further, when high-speed broadband is available, consumers often have only one choice for service and pay more for high-speed plans than consumers in some other advanced countries.
The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act would allow for federal grants of up to 50 percent of a project’s cost, and up to 75 percent for remote, high-need areas, to be awarded in combination with loan funding already available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service. This legislation also doubles the authorized funding for the Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband programs to $50 million per fiscal year. By allowing for grant-loan combination financing, this proposal would provide adequate resources to private sector providers, state and local governments, and Indian tribes or tribal organizations to expand high-speed, affordable broadband access to underserved rural areas.
Senator Gillibrand introduced this bipartisan bill on September 28th along with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). The legislation is supported by the American Library Association, Center for Rural Strategies, Chazy Westport Communications, Clarkson University, National Association of Counties, National Association of Development Organizations, National Association of Towns and Townships, National Center for Frontier Communities, National Conference of State Legislatures, National League of Cities, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Inc., SLIC Network Solutions, State Agriculture and Rural Leaders, The Development Corporation, Twinstate Technologies, Westelcom, and WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband.