The American Broadband Buildout Act, introduced by Senators Susan M. Collins and Doug Jones, would make $5 billion available to help bring broadband to rural areas where the service is not currently available and to support digital literacy and public awareness campaigns.
The funding would come in the form of grants through a program administered by the Federal Communications Commission.
“The legislation would help ensure that rural Americans have access to broadband services at speeds they need to fully participate in the benefits of our modern society and economy,” said Collins in a statement introducing the bill.
American Broadband Buildout Act
Key points of the act include:
- Funded projects must be in unserved areas.
- The federal funding must be matched through public-private partnerships between the broadband service provider and the state in which the broadband service will be deployed.
- Projects must be designed to be “future proof,” meaning the infrastructure must be capable of delivering higher speeds as broadband demand increases.
- Projects in states that have traditionally lagged behind the national average in terms of broadband subscribers would be prioritized.
- Some funding would go to digital literacy and public awareness campaigns, with the goal of helping to attract employers to rural areas and addressing the disparity in adoption rates between rural and urban users.
The FCC for years has administered the high-cost Universal Service Fund, which covers some of service providers’ costs of building and maintaining broadband networks. In addition, the Department of Agriculture has had programs that provide grants and low-interest loans for rural broadband for many years. Nevertheless, as Collins notes, rural Americans are much more likely than their urban counterparts to lack broadband service.
This issue has received increased attention over the last year or so, and the American Broadband Buildout Act is the latest example of a range of rural broadband initiatives recommended by policymakers recently. The USDA has dedicated $600 million for a pilot program that will offer loans and grants for rural broadband buildouts. The FCC has created a Precision Agricultural Connectivity Task Force focused on making broadband available across agricultural areas. And if regulators approve the proposed merger of Sprint and T-Mobile, they are likely to impose conditions that would require the merged company to meet specific 5G buildout commitments, including in rural areas.
Image courtesy of flickr user Sean MacEntee.