The Connect Unserved Americans Act introduced in the Senate yesterday aims to target government broadband funding to areas lacking service today and to prevent the use of the funding to overbuild existing broadband infrastructure.
The bill was introduced by Senators John Thune (R-S.D.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.).
Connect Unserved Americans Act
Specifically, the bill would amend the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) to change the rules for $1.926 billion allocated for the Rural Utilities Service broadband loan and grant pilot program, also known as the ReConnect program. The IIJA states that at least 50% of the households in a project receiving funding through the program must lack broadband at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.
The new act would change that percentage to 80%.
In addition, the bill would modify the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 to add the U.S. Treasury to the list of agencies that must coordinate with one another to help ensure that multiple government broadband funding programs do not provide funding to build networks in the same area. Agencies that already are required to coordinate with each other on broadband deployment funding include the FCC, the USDA and the NITA.
“Our bipartisan legislation would help bridge the digital divide by ensuring federal broadband funding goes to truly unserved areas,” said Senator Thune in a press release.
“We need to focus this critical funding on truly unserved areas to ensure that the [ReConnect] program is as effective as possible,” said Senator Smith in the release.
Last year, the same four senators that introduced the Connect Unserved Americans Act and two others sent a letter to USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack urging the agency to prioritize unserved areas in establishing rules for the ReConnect program. In previous ReConnect funding rounds, funding was targeted to areas where 90% of the population does not have broadband available.
“While the unserved standards may need to increase as more unserved areas become served, it is important to note every round of ReConnect funding made available thus far has been oversubscribed with far more applicants than actual funding available, meaning there are still many areas that are unserved at the current definition and in need of help,” the senators wrote in the letter.