Portman, Bennet, King Announce Bipartisan Legislation to Bridge Digital Divide
Bipartisan BRIDGE Act Would Provide $40 Billion in Flexible Funding to States and Tribal Governments to Promote Broadband Access, Affordability
WASHINGTON, DC — Today, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Angus King (I-ME) introduced bipartisan legislation to provide $40 billion in flexible funding to states, Tribal governments, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia to bridge the gap in access to reliable high-speed internet that persists in certain communities. The Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act of 2021 would provide states with the resources and flexibility to deploy “future-proof” networks able to meet communities’ needs in the 21st century, and to support local initiatives to promote broadband affordability, adoption, and inclusion, among other efforts.
“Too many rural and low-income communities in Ohio and across the U.S. lack affordable and reliable access to broadband. In a time when more and more people communicate, learn, and work over the internet, it has never been more important to ensure every community has quality access to broadband,” said Portman. “The BRIDGE Act is designed to help underserved areas rapidly achieve broadband access, so that we may close the digital divide in this country.”
“The BRIDGE Act turns the page on Washington’s failed approach to closing the digital divide,” said Bennet. “Our bipartisan bill puts states in the driver’s seat. It empowers communities to deploy their own networks to promote choice and competition. And it significantly raises the standard for any new broadband networks to ensure they meet America’s needs, not only today, but for years to come -- from telemedicine to teleworking, distance learning, precision agriculture, and the emerging technologies that will transform our lives. We shouldn’t accept a country where any American is shut out of the 21st century broadband infrastructure they need to compete and thrive, and our bill makes a historic investment to connect the Americans Washington’s failed approach has left behind.”
“The coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that broadband is essential infrastructure,” said King. “Over the last year-plus, Americans of all backgrounds have relied on the internet to work, learn, shop, and stay connected to their loved ones – but at the same time, far too many of our citizens could not access these opportunities. The American Rescue Plan included a historic down payment on broadband infrastructure to confront this challenge, but a larger investment is needed to ensure that no Americans are left behind in our increasingly-digital society. I’m proud to cosponsor this legislation to fund resilient, future-proof broadband infrastructure that connects every corner of our country to the internet’s possibilities and enables all American communities to take part in the 21st century economy.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored the vital importance of high-speed broadband to modern American life. High-speed broadband is essential for Americans to telework, learn remotely, access telemedicine, and connect with friends and family. Yet millions of Americans still lack access – disproportionately from our rural areas, low-income neighborhoods, and communities of color. Even when communities have access, many are stuck with slow speeds, high costs, and few choices.
Over the past several decades, Washington has spent tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to deploy outdated networks that fail to meet many communities’ needs and deprive Americans of the opportunity to fully participate in our modern economy. It is well past time to bridge America’s digital divide and build a 21st century broadband infrastructure that will meet our country’s needs not only today, but for years to come.
The BRIDGE Act would:
- Provide $40 billion to States, Tribal Governments, and U.S. Territories to ensure all Americans have access to affordable, high-speed broadband.
- Prioritize unserved, underserved, and high-cost areas with investments in “future proof” networks that will meet the long-term needs of communities while supporting efforts to promote broadband affordability, adoption, and digital inclusion.
- Encourage gigabit-level internet wherever possible, with flexibility for areas where this is technologically or financially impracticable.
- Emphasize affordability and inclusion by requiring new broadband networks to provide at least one low-cost option for low-income families.
- Increase choice and competition by empowering local and state decision-making, lifting bans against municipal broadband networks, and allowing more entities to compete for funding.
Earlier this year, Portman, Bennet, King, and Joe Manchin (D-WV) led a bipartisan letter to the Biden administration’s top officials for federal broadband policy and urging the Biden administration to significantly update and align broadband programs and speed requirements across the federal government.
Support for the BRIDGE Act includes: INCOMPAS; National Digital Inclusion Alliance; Public Knowledge; Consumer Reports; Institute for Local Self-Reliance; Electronic Frontier Foundation; Edison Electric Institute; Fiber Broadband Association; School Health Library Broadband Coalition; National Association of Realtors; National Digital Equity Center; National Farmers Union; and the National Rural Health Association.
Statements of support:
“The BRIDGE Act assures that Americans in rural and high-poverty areas receive the same quality broadband as their urban cousins. By prioritizing truly high-speed networks and promoting broadband affordability, this bipartisan bill assures we won’t be revisiting America's digital divide again in a few years,” said Tom Wheeler, former Chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.
“NTCA’s community based members have been working to ensure rural communities are not left behind in today’s digital world by delivering high-quality broadband services that enable rural communities to offer modern economic, education, and health care opportunities. We applaud Senators King, Bennet, and Portman for their interest in promoting broadband connections that meet the needs of modern consumers. NTCA looks forward to continuing to work with the bill sponsors to ensure any new programs to stimulate broadband deployment or make broadband more affordable complement and coordinate with existing deployment commitments and programs aimed at sustaining such efforts,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO, NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.
“The Bridge Act is a model bipartisan bill, addressing both broadband availability and the need for increased broadband adoption. All geographies, rural, urban, suburban and tribal have households who cannot afford internet service or a computer and/or do not have the necessary digital skills to use it as the essential tool it is. NDIA thanks Senators Bennet, King and Portman for recognizing this reality and their work to rectify it,” said Angela Siefer, National Digital Inclusion Alliance.
“The future of our broadband networks will determine the future of our nation. With gigabit speed benchmarks the BRIDGE ACT sends a strong message to the rest of the world that the United States will indeed be ready for the jobs of tomorrow. Building faster, future proof broadband opens more possibilities for innovation and investment, and it’s refreshing to see bipartisan leaders uniting around bold broadband goals,” said Chip Pickering, CEO of INCOMPAS/BroadLand co-chair, and a former Republican Member of Congress from Mississippi.
“The success of family farm agriculture depends on reliable and affordable basic utilities – and that certainly includes high-speed internet connectivity. Farmers use broadband to reach customers, order seeds and tools, learn more about markets and the weather, and use precision technologies that maximize yields and minimize input use. The pandemic limited face-to-face interactions and moved everything online, highlighting how rural communities’ lack of broadband internet makes it harder to compete, go to school, receive medical care, and conduct business. Furthermore, as too many rural Americans have suffered greatly throughout this pandemic, it is vital that broadband network options are made affordable for low-income families. By bringing affordable, high-speed broadband to unserved communities, the BRIDGE Act will narrow the digital divide and help farmers and their communities reach their full potential,” said Rob Larew, President, National Farmers Union.
“The Fiber Broadband Association supports the BRIDGE Act as it specifies a 100/100Mbps minimum broadband speed requirement, requires an affirmative waiver from NTIA to reduce the minimum broadband speed to 100/30Mbps when necessary AND it also includes a prioritization of Gigabit service (which is defined as 1 Gigabit upload and download). The BRIDGE Act moves broadband forward and away from legacy definitions that don’t allow consumers the full benefit of a globally connected economy. Higher capacity fiber broadband services are critical to job creation and growth, crossing and closing the digital divide for everyone, and creating economic opportunity for every American,” said Gary Bolton, President, Fiber Broadband Association.
“EEI and our member electric companies commend Senators King, Bennet, and Portman for their continued leadership and work to expand affordable and reliable broadband access for all Americans. The COVID-19 pandemic clearly highlighted that there still are many unserved and underserved communities across the country, and the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act will significantly boost the opportunities for the electric power industry to help close the digital divide. EEI member companies are well-positioned to build out the middle-mile broadband infrastructure needed to help reach these communities, in partnership with the telecommunications companies and last-mile internet providers that ultimately will connect customers,” said Tom Kuhn, President, Edison Electric Institute.
“Building infrastructure and connecting every home with a robust broadband connection is so important. Equally important, and must be included with every broadband infrastructure build-out, is ensuring digital equity for all citizens. We achieve digital equity by making sure that broadband connections and equipment are affordable and digital literacy training is accessible. We appreciate and applaud Senators King, Bennet, and Portman on their thoughtful approach and bipartisan support on this very important and meaningful bill,” said Susan Corbett, Director, National Digital Equity Center.
“The bipartisan BRIDGE Act recognizes the vital role that States, Tribal Governments and US Territories have played, and must continue to play, in ensuring that every household in America, whether rural or urban, has robust and affordable broadband. As we saw during the pandemic, these entities have an excellent sense of how to address broadband needs on the ground. It is essential that they remain partners with the federal government in closing the digital divide. There is no doubt – broadband is essential infrastructure. Yet tens of millions of people in the U.S. have waited too long to receive the benefits it enables. Congress should pass the BRIDGE Act or make it an essential part of any infrastructure bill moving forward,” said Gigi Sohn, Distinguished Fellow, Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy, Benton Senior Fellow & Public Advocate.
“COVID taught our country many lessons, including that the cost of our digital divides is large and growing. We can no longer afford the losses to our economy and society that leaving tens of millions of school children, workers and families off our commons of collaboration entails. The BRIDGE Act is a smart and vitally needed piece of the puzzle for addressing the availability gap. Congratulations to Senators Bennet, King and Portman for coming together to push forward legislation that will move our country forward to meet the needs of the 21st Century information economy,” said Blair Levin, Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program, former Chief of Staff to FCC Chairman Reed Hundt, and Executive Director 2010 United States National Broadband Plan.
“Consumer Reports is proud to support the BRIDGE Act. This bill represents a direct, meaningful, and effective way to expand access to affordable, high-speed internet service. As millions of Americans have shifted to working, learning, and receiving medical care at home because of the pandemic, the value of a reliable, affordable internet connection has never been clearer. Providing funds directly to States and Tribal Governments is a necessary down payment to build modern infrastructure that’s needed to supply high-speed broadband to more communities for years to come. CR is particularly pleased with the legislation's requirement that internet service providers offer at least one low-cost option for families who cannot afford broadband and its current prices. Finally, the BRIDGE Act breaks down barriers to competition, a simple solution which has been shown to lower prices for internet service,” said Jonathan Schwantes, Senior Policy Counsel, Consumer Reports.
“This bill recognizes the varied broadband challenges across the United States – rural and urban and in between – while offering states and localities real tools to ensure all Americans can access the many opportunities that arise from fast, affordable, and reliable Internet access in their homes,” said Christopher Mitchell, Director, Community Broadband Networks, Institute for Local Self-Reliance.