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Senate Bill Eyes $15 Billion in Grants for Rural Broadband Buildouts

Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., are introducing legislation that will provide up to $15 billion in matching grants to increase access to broadband services in areas of the United States that are unserved by broadband meeting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) minimum definition of that service.

The American Broadband Buildout Act is meant to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural America by “matching grants to assist states and state-approved entities build the ‘last-mile’ infrastructure to bring high-speed broadband directly to homes and businesses that lack it,” the senators said.

“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,” said Sen. Collins in a press release. “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.”

The projects eligible to receive grants must be in unserved areas, where broadband isn’t available at speeds that meet the standards of the FCC. Focusing on unserved areas, according to the senators, will prevent “over-building” where broadband infrastructure is already in place.

Additional provisions to the bill include:

  • The Federal funding must be matched through public-private partnerships between service providers and the state;
  • Projects must be designed to be “future proof” and be able to deliver higher speeds as broadband accelerates in the future;
  • The FCC would be directed to prioritize funding projects in states that have traditionally lagged behind national averages in terms of broadband subscribers; and
  • Grants would be provided to states and state-designated entities for digital literacy and public awareness campaigns highlighting the possibilities of broadband service.

“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 Sen. 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.”

Jordan Smith
About Jordan Smith
Jordan Smith is MeriTalk SLG's Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.