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September 15, 2020

As Pandemic Heightens Connectivity Needs, King Cosponsors BRIDGE Act to Expand Broadband Nationwide

Legislation would result in $31 billion to states and tribal governments to deploy high-speed broadband networks to help close the digital divide

WASHINGTON D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) announced his cosponsorship of the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act of 2020 to deploy affordable, “future-proof” broadband networks nationwide. The legislation, introduced by Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), would provide $30 billion in flexible funding to states and $1 billion to tribal governments to competitively award funding to connect unserved and underserved communities, with an emphasis on affordable, gigabit-level internet service to meet communities’ needs for years to come. Senator King’s support for this legislation comes as the coronavirus pandemic has increased the national reliance on broadband for distance learning, telemedicine, and working from home; Senator King has specifically cited the need for improved broadband access in Maine in order to establish the state as a national remote work leader.

“The coronavirus pandemic has brought into focus a 21st century reality: access to high-speed, affordable broadband is critical infrastructure that is essential for Americans across the nation to operate their businesses, pursue their education, access telehealth, and interact with their communities,” said Senator King. “Unfortunately, too many rural communities don’t have access to this vital tool, leaving them at risk of being left behind. As Congress continues to discuss opportunities to address the ongoing economic crisis, this legislation can help put folks back to work and bridge the digital divide so Americans of all backgrounds can reach their full potential.”

"This legislation is vital to our economic recovery. America's most valuable resource is our people, and our biggest contribution to the world is our ideas. In the midst of this emergency, broadband has helped some Americans work remotely, pursue education, and access healthcare,” said Joshua Broder, CEO, Tilson, and Co-Chair, Maine’s Economic Recovery Committee. “Many Americans remain cut off from these pursuits because of lack of broadband. It's absolutely vital that we harness the efforts, potential, and creativity of all Americans in this recovery by extending world class broadband to everyone now. Senator King’s unwavering support for improving rural broadband shows his commitment to ensuring all Americans participate in and benefit from the recovery.”

“Bringing broadband to rural Maine is a challenge that will require local flexibility to maximize the value of this investment. As a former Governor, Senator King recognizes the important role States are playing in solving the high needs of communities,” said Peggy Schaffer, Executive Director, ConnectMaine. “The BRIDGE Act moves Maine’s action plan forward by supporting Maine’s strategy of 1/3 federal, 1/3 state, 1/3 private funding to ensure that all Mainer’s have access to affordable high speed internet. The Bridge Act also recognizes that State programs are tailored to fit State challenges and avoid some of the issues that make many federal programs for broadband a tough fit for Maine. If passed, this bill would be a huge step forward for Maine and ConnectMaine wants to thank Senator King for his continued leadership and commitment on this important issue.”

Additionally, the BRIDGE Act is supported by the following national organizations: American Library Association; American Psychological Association; Consumer Reports; Fiber Broadband Association; Institute for Local Self-Reliance; National Association of Realtors; National Farmers Union; National Rural Health Association; Primary Care Collaborative; Public Knowledge; and the Schools, and Health & Libraries Broadband Coalition.

 The BRIDGE Act would:

·       Provide $30 billion to States and $1 billion to Tribal Governments to connect unserved communities, hospitals, schools, libraries, and other local anchor institutions to high-speed broadband that can meet their long-term needs. 

·       Emphasize affordability by requiring new broadband networks to provide at least one low-cost option for low-income families. 

·       Encourage gigabit-level internet wherever possible while raising the minimum speeds for new broadband networks to at least 100/100 Mbps, much higher than the current definition of 25/3 Mbps set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the 10/1 Mbps definition set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 

·       Increase choice and competition by lifting bans against municipal broadband networks and allowing more entities to compete for funding. 

·       Improve broadband data by funding the FCC’s data overhaul while setting a one-year deadline for its completion. 

·       Strengthen transparency and accountability with requirements to publicize eligible funding areas, conduct an evidence-based challenge process, and require applicants to return awarded funds if they fail to meet project requirements. 

During his time in the Senate, Senator King has been a strong advocate for expanding broadband access as a way to increase connectivity in rural Maine – and has raised the issue consistently during the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, Senator King called on the seven largest internet service providers (ISPs) to help limit the economic and social disruption caused by COVID-19 and better ensure that learners of all ages are able to meaningfully participate in their education. In May, Senator King cosponsored the Emergency Educational Connections Act to help ensure all K-12 students have adequate home internet connectivity and devices during the coronavirus pandemic. Also that month, Senator King joined a bipartisan group of senators to urged Congressional leadership to include $2 billion in the next coronavirus relief package to help healthcare providers expand telehealth services through improved access to broadband. In April, he joined 35 senators in a letter urging the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) to increase reimbursements for telephone-based, or audio-only, telehealth services to equal other audio-visual telehealth and in-person visitation reimbursements.

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