A new bill introduced in the House of Representatives would allocate $20 billion to rural broadband expansion. Congressmen Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jared Huffman (D-CA), and Rick Nolan(D-MN) have introduced the New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017 with the goal of connecting every home to high-speed internet access.
The congressmen say that the bill would create a funding and expansion plan similar to Roosevelt’s New Deal rural electrification model. The Rural Electrification Act of 1936, led to a rapid expansion of the electrical grid by offering federal loans for the installation of power distribution systems in isolated rural areas of the US. The funding was channeled through cooperative electric power companies, most of which still exist today.
According to the congressmen, the bill will increase investments in broadband infrastructure, improve programs to support tribal communities in broadband development, and the establish 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. Broadband expansion has been a key goal of governors in several rural states but it can often be difficult to attract private providers to areas with naturally lower subscription rates.
The $20 billion spend on broadband would be part of the $1 trillion national infrastructure plan currently being considered in Congress. Through this provision, the Telecommunications Loan and Loan Guarantee Program would be modernized to increase eligibility, allow greater flexibility, and break down federal agency broadband “silos”. The measure would also 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.
Tribal lands would also see a new Tribal Broadband Assistance Program to support tribal communities in broadband deployment.
“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.”