Broadband Breakfast Insight: This is a significant development to see emerging from the House of Representatives, which is generally less focused on rural broadband issues than the Senate. This new measure, the “New Deal Rural Broadband Act,” has an array of items, but one significant part appears to be the authorization of the Rural Utility Service (RUS) offering broadband grants in addition to loans and loan guarantees. Stay tuned for more information about this initiative!
Reps. Huffman, Pocan, and Nolan Introduce New Deal Rural Broadband Act to Close Digital Divide in Rural America
WASHINGTON, February 2, 2017 – Congressmen Jared Huffman, D-Calif., Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin, and Rick Nolan, D-Minnesota, introduced the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017, an ambitious plan to connect every American home, business, and school to high-speed, reliable broadband internet that is based on Roosevelt’s New Deal rural electrification model. The legislation would expand access to broadband internet in rural communities in Huffman’s North Coast congressional district, and across the nation, through increased investments in broadband infrastructure, improved programs to support tribal communities in broadband development, and the establishment of a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to better coordinate all Federal rural broadband deployment programs.
In 2016, according to the Federal Communications Commission, 39% of rural America and 41% of those living on Tribal land lacked access to advanced broadband, defined as 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. By comparison, only 10% of the country as a whole lack access to advanced broadband.
“The longer we allow the digital divide to persist in rural America and Indian country, the more Americans will be left behind,” said Rep. Huffman. “The New Deal Broadband Act is an ambitious blueprint to connect every home, school, and business in America to high-speed, reliable broadband so we can all compete in the world economy. All Americans deserve the benefits of improved economic development, as well as expanded public safety, health, and education services. Our new legislation builds on the legacy and success of FDR’s New Deal to bring broadband access in rural America into the 21st century.”
“Rural America has waited long enough for high-speed broadband,” Rep. Nolan said. “It’s a necessity required to start new businesses, create new good-paying jobs, help our small town rural economy grow, and modernize the education and health care services so essential to quality of life. I’m proud to join my colleague in introducing this legislation to connect tens
“Across our country, many people still lack basic and reliable access to the internet. Congress must work together to address the connectivity gap and ensure that communities, especially in rural America, are able to stay connected to the 21st Century economy,” said Rep. Pocan. “The New Deal Broadband Act is a comprehensive plan to address broadband connectivity across our nation and I am proud to introduce this bill with my colleagues Reps. Huffman and Nolan.”
“Current federal rural broadband policy is not favorable to California,” said Connie Stewart, Executive Director of the California Center for Rural Policy at Humboldt State University. “Of the more than 110 federally recognized tribes in the state, 84 do not qualify for RUS grant funding. We would like to thank Congress Huffman for his leadership in bringing a comprehensive federal rural broadband policy to life”
“The lack of access to broadband in rural America remains a major challenge. Incumbents have not really acted fast enough to closed the digital divide. Unless we solve this need, we create an even larger urban-rural economic gap. an even larger urban-rural economic gap,” said Tom West, Manager of the North Bay North Coast Broadband Consortium. “ Rep. Huffman’s proposed broadband infrastructure investment would create new opportunities on the North Coast to ensure all homes, schools, and businesses have access to high-speed, reliable broadband.”
In January, Senate Democrats unveiled a $1 trillion infrastructure plan that included $20 billion in broadband infrastructure investment.
The New Deal Rural Broadband Act would:
- Establish a new Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives to coordinate and centralize all Federal rural broadband programs;
- Authorize $20 billion for new broadband infrastructure focused on rural communities and those without adequate access;
- Authorize a new Tribal Broadband Assistance Program to support tribal communities in broadband deployment;
- Improve and modernize the Telecommunications Loan and Loan Guarantee Program to increase eligibility, allow greater flexibility, and break down federal agency broadband “silos”;
- Authorize the Rural Utility Service (RUS) to offer broadband grants in addition to loans and loan guarantees to provide small communities with the seed funds needed to compete in loan applications or develop commercially attractive proposals and increase overall (RUS) broadband investment from $25 million to $50 million annually; and
- Establish an inventory of Federal and State assets on which a broadband facility could be constructed and;
- Provide land management agencies with cooperative agreement and fee retention authority for telecommunications rights-of-way to leverage public lands for broadband deployment.