Reintroduced senate bill could increase funding for rural internet

Connectivity problems in the United States are most prevalent in rural communities. A reintroduced Senate bill aims to overcome this slow modernization by providing local governments multiple options through which they can finance broadband Internet service projects in their areas.

The Rural Broadband Financing Flexibility Act

The Rural Broadband Financing Flexibility Act was first introduced in 2019 during the Trump administration but never voted on. This bipartisan bill has now been reintroduced by the two senators who had originally sponsored it: Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). If enacted, the bill would provide federal tax credits and other financial assistance that local governments could put toward broadband infrastructure. In some areas, this assistance would motivate private companies to expand, but it could also be used to fund municipal broadband services.

Reintroduction of the Bill

Although it is uncertain why there was no progress when the bill was first introduced in 2019, a then-Republican-controlled Senate was likely the culprit. Despite being a bipartisan bill, there was not much support on the right, and even interest on the left was tepid. But the pandemic changed everything.

How the COVID-19 Pandemic Changed Minds

A lack of broadband Internet access in rural America has been a problem for a while now, but it was often viewed as a challenge that would be overcome in time by private businesses. But then the COVID-19 pandemic happened. It changed American life. Many Americans were required to work from home, and much of the American youth had to attend school virtually through the internet. People who had never considered the problem and people who had view it as an issue that would go away in time were suddenly faced with the practical challenges of having so many Americans cut off from reliable high-speed internet. States that had once blocked or restricted public internet service providers were now easing those rules because private companies were unable or unwilling to meet the need.

How the Act Would Boost Modernization in Rural Areas

Rural areas often lack broadband access because expansion into those areas is expensive and time-consuming. Private companies perform cost-benefit analyses and focus on the projects that will provide them the most profit. In the current scenario, they will get to those rural areas eventually, but the future is here, and the people in rural areas need the access now and not down the road. These companies need motivation, and federal tax credits can help ease the burden of expansion. Other options include tax-exempt bonds, bond payment assistance and public-private partnerships. Municipalities can also use this assistance to fund their own public projects, which has proved effective in a number of communities.

Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act

Alongside the Rural Broadband Financing Flexibility Act, Hassan and Moore Capito have introduced the Rural Reasonable and Comparable Wireless Access Act. This act would require the Federal Communications Commission to establish a national standard for both broadband and mobile services. Carriers would then have to meet these standards wherever they operated in order to receive any federal funding. This would put an end to the carries who accept financial assistance from the government but continue to ignore rural areas while focusing on the more profitable urban areas.

An Eye Toward the Future

Broadband will be an integral to the U.S. economy for at least the next 50 years. Proponents of the bill argue that excluding millions of Americans in this manner makes little sense and that the money we invest as a nation today will be reaped many times over by the American people in the decades ahead.

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