Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) today introduced the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act, bipartisan legislation that would help close the broadband gap in rural areas to ensure that all Americans 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 access to the resources they need to get online and stay competitive in our digital economy. I was proud to work with Senator Capito on this legislation, and I look forward to seeing it pass the Senate and ultimately become law.”
“Reliable broadband access has changed how we work, socialize, and share information. As West Virginia looks to grow and diversify its economy, rural Internet access will be an essential part of the transition. Yet, for all of the benefits broadband offers, a lack of connectivity presents just as many challenges,” said Senator Shelley Moore Capito. “The Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act will create new opportunities for communities looking to close the gap between those who have high-speed, high-quality broadband and the many rural Americans who don’t.”
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.
This bipartisan 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.