Fredonia, 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 Western 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.”
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.
“Access to broadband is a critical need for today’s residential homeowners and businesses. Our quality of life and economic security depends on filling in the gaps in the rural areas of Chautauqua County. Senator Gillibrand’s legislation will provide the financial resources necessary to get us connected to the 21st century economy”, said Vince Horrigan, Chautauqua County Executive.
“As Mayor in the city of Dunkirk, I would like to thank Senator Gillibrand for sponsoring federal legislation to bring universal access to Broadband Internet service to our community in northern Chautauqua County,” said Dunkirk Mayor Willie Rosas. “Access to broadband Internet service provides our community a better opportunity for Economic Development, and it will also transform the way we provide services to our residents”.
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.