Rural access to high-speed broadband is generally a problem. And most of us living in a major metro leaning hard on the internet to get through the day don’t feel the pain unless we’re on a pastoral vacation or visiting relatives for what turns out to be a low-speed holiday. If you’ve had the experience, it can be a shock to the system.
An estimated 34 million Americans don’t have access to high-speed broadband, according to the FCC. Additionally, around 30 percent of American households haven’t adopted high-speed broadband and that level is even higher in low-income communities.
U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) announced this week the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program Act, which is said to be bipartisan legislation that would help close the broadband gap in rural areas to help ensure that people in New York state have access to high-speed internet. This bill reportedly 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,” Gillibrand says in a statement. “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.
Gillibrand also is making a call for the FCC to approve (by the end of the year) a New York State waiver submitted this fall for use of $170 million in federal funding through the Connect America Fund (CAF). These funds were said to have been made available when Verizon declined to accept the allocation through the last CAF disbursement. In a May 2016 letter to the FCC, Gillibrand requested that rather than the FCC reallocating these unclaimed funds into a national competition, they should be dedicated to New York State, allowing it to partner with the FCC in use of the funding by the state’s broadband deployment program.
“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,” Vince Horrigan, N.Y. Chautauqua County executive, comments.
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, the Gillibrand statement maintains.
Senator Gillibrand originally introduced the bill on Sept. 28 with Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). More on that is available here.
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