October 03, 2016

Senator Gillibrand Announces Bipartisan Legislation To Help Close Broadband Gap In Upstate New York's Rural Areas, Build An Improved Broadband System In Areas Of Highest Need

With Close To 48,000 North Country Residents Lacking Access to High-Speed Internet, Senator Gillibrand’s Bill Would Create New Opportunities to Finance Rural Broadband Projects

Watertown, NY – Standing at Westelcom, 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 North Country and across upstate New York 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.” 

“We would like thank Senator Gillibrand for sponsoring this important legislation that will help to provide universal access to broadband, especially in rural area that still have many areas without broadband service,” said David Wolf, Technology Division Manager, Development Authority of the North Country (DANC)

“Westelcom applauds Senator Gillibrand's vision to create a World Class Broadband Network that extends into our rural communities,” said Paul F. Barton, President & General Manager, Westelcom Family of Companies. “Furthermore, we believe that the proposed Act will enable broadband providers such as Westelcom, to create a sustainable business model in rural communities.” 

“Expanding the Saint Regis Mohawk Tribe’s broadband infrastructure to surrounding communities in the North Country will only strengthen resources for education, agriculture, healthcare and business development,” stated Christopher Thompson, Director of Economic Development for the Tribe. “Our vision is to bring connectivity to the North Country and stimulate economic development and job creation throughout the entire region. North Country Broadband, a tribally owned enterprise, is delivering high speed Internet to underserved areas in Northern New York. We commend Senator Gillibrand and Senator Capito’s B-CROP proposal to increase access to the resources needed to expand broadband to unserved rural areas.” 

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. This number includes an estimated 69,000 North Country residents who do not have access to high-speed broadband service. 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, National Association of Counties, National Association of Development Organizations, National Association of Towns and Townships, National Center for Frontier Communities, National League of Cities, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, State Agriculture and Rural Leaders, and the Rural Community Assistance Partnership (RCAP) Inc.