October 28, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Senator Angus King (I-Maine), co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, is welcoming an announcement from the Department of Agriculture (USDA) that its ReConnect Broadband program will now require all participants in the program to provide high-speed connections with at least 100 megabits per second (Mbps) for both download and upload; the previous standards were 25 Mbps for download and 3 Mbps for upload. This change comes within months of advocacy from Senator King, as he has been urging the Biden administration to update the broadband program’s baseline speed requirements to reflect existing and anticipated uses, from two-way video conferencing and smart grids to artificial intelligence.
“A high-speed broadband connection should be just that – high-speed. However, for too long the federal government’s definition of “high-speed” has lagged behind technological advancements and allowed the ‘digital divide’ to get wider and wider,” said Senator King. “This new symmetrical standard will make sure America’s broadband investments are made with the future in mind, helping expand broadband access not only today but for decades to come. It is an important step in the right direction, which will allow more Americans to fully engage in the 21st century economy.”
“Federal funding is a central part of how we are going to expand broadband in Maine. One of the challenges has been inconsistencies across federal agencies in defining what is eligible for grants and must be built with the funding,” said Peggy Schaffer, Director of ConnectMaine. “Thanks to the consistent advocacy of Senator King and other Senators, and thanks to the support from the Biden administration, federal funding requirements are being harmonized across programs. This makes it much easier for communities and ISPs to use these funds to bring high-quality broadband infrastructure to Maine. “
In March, Senator King led a bipartisan letter with his Senate colleagues to the Biden administration urging this change, along with an update to the definition of what constitutes high-speed broadband across federal agencies. After Senator King’s advocacy, ReConnect announced up to $1.15 billion in new loans and grants to expand the availability of broadband in rural areas – all of which will follow the new high-speed standards championed by the Senator.
As co-chair of the bipartisan Senate Broadband Caucus, Senator King has been a strong advocate for expanding affordable broadband access as a way to increase economic opportunity in rural Maine – and has raised the issue consistently during the coronavirus pandemic – securing $10 billion in funding for broadband in the American Rescue Plan, as well as more than $7 billion to close the digital divide for students nationwide. The March edition of Senator King’s “Inside Maine” podcast focused on this historic investment during a conversation with Tilson Technologies’ Josh Broder, and Pew Charitable Trusts’ Kathryn de Wit.
Senator King also worked to secure broadband funds in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), which is being considered in the House and will invest $65 billion in broadband infrastructure across the nation. The legislation’s historic broadband provisions include over $40 billion in block grants to states and $2 billion for tribal governments, mirroring the bipartisan BRIDGE Act introduced by Senators King, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) earlier this year. The IIJA also includes Senator King’s Digital Equity Act, investing $2.75 billion in an array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity.”