Grassley, Klobuchar Introduce Legislation to Expand Access to Rural Broadband

WASHINGTON – Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) today introduced the Assisting Broadband Connectivity Act. This bipartisan bill will streamline the funding process and remove barriers for broadband connectivity in hard-to-serve rural areas.

“This bipartisan bill makes commonsense updates to help areas connect all the pieces from both the state and federal level to get some of these expensive and urgent rural broadband projects done. Completing these projects in every corner of our state is critical infrastructure to people’s lives and livelihoods,” Grassley said. “Broadband will help boost economic development and job creation in rural areas.”

“When we invest in broadband infrastructure, we invest in opportunity for all Americans,” Klobuchar said. “In 2021, we should be able to bring high-speed internet to every family in America — regardless of their zip code. This legislation will help bridge the digital divide by ensuring states are able to access the funding they need to provide broadband service in rural and low-income communities.”

The Assisting Broadband Connectivity Act will make changes to the rural broadband programs at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) so areas aren’t automatically ineligible for federal funding because the project previously received state funding. This change will ease administrative burdens for those applying to provide broadband to rural America. However, this won’t change the requirements or due diligence for USDA Rural Utilities Service when they administer these programs.

This legislation will also provide more flexibility with funding and resources. States will be able to use federal funds, such as COVID aid for broadband, fulfilling their requirement in most applications to match federal dollars. This update will help rural America move forward by providing more coordination and funding availability for broadband projects.

“Iowa’s community-based broadband providers thank Senator Grassley yet again for looking for ways to reduce federal red-tape and make more areas in Iowa eligible for broadband expansion. While recent federal and state programs have helped connect tens of thousands of Iowans to state-of-the-art broadband service, there has been a disconnect where some needy areas in Iowa were not eligible for RUS/USDA funding. This bill takes an important step in encouraging collaboration between federal and state programs so that Iowa providers can continue to connect more Iowans with the broadband services they need,” Dave Duncan, CEO, Iowa Communications Alliance, said.

“As many new programs are created and even more are considered to promote the availability of high-speed broadband across rural America, funding coordination between states and the federal government has never been more important. This is why NTCA applauds Senators Grassley and Klobuchar for their efforts to promote and enhance the complementary nature of state and federal funding programs. Allowing providers to leverage state and federal funds in combination will lead to the deployment of better networks and connect more Americans and holds the promise to make a more lasting impact in overcoming our nation’s digital divide. With the prospects of a broadband infrastructure package on the horizon, it is essential that Congress and the Biden administration continue to ensure federal and state coordination so that funding can be used as efficiently and effectively as possible,” Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA-The Rural Broadband Association, said.

“Coordinating state and federal funding together has allowed Minnesota’s Border to Border Broadband Grant Program reach more people at higher speeds than just Federal programs alone.  It is important that we have state and federal programs working together.  We truly appreciate Senator Klobuchar’s leadership on this important issue,” Brent J. Christensen, President and CEO, Minnesota Telecom Alliance, said.

“During these extraordinary times the need for digital equity and high speed internet access for all Minnesotans has never been more apparent. This bill allows states to maximize the impact of our state investments and removes potential barriers to participation in federal broadband programs,” Angie Dickison, Executive Director, Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, said.

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