U.S. Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced a bill on Wednesday they say could help close the digital divide in rural areas in the U.S. It 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.
It also would double the authorized funding for the Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband programs to $50 million per fiscal year.
“West Virginia looks to grow and diversify its economy, rural Internet access will be an essential part of the transition,” Capito says in a statement. “Yet, for all of the benefits broadband offers, a lack of connectivity presents just as many challenges.”
Gillibrand says that reliable, fast internet access “isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity in the 21st century economy.”
“Lack of affordable broadband service cuts off families and businesses from critical services,” Gillibrand adds. “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.”
The statement released by the senators references an FCC estimate that 34 million Americans do not have access to high-speed broadband. It also states that in rural and tribal areas, approximately 40 percent of the population does not have access to broadband, and when it is available, consumers often have only one choice for service and pay more.
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