June 16, 2021
WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine), co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) have introduced major bipartisan legislation to provide $40 billion in flexible funding to states, tribal governments, U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia to bridge the digital divide. 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. Senators King and Bennet first introduced the legislation last year.
“The coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that broadband is essential infrastructure,” said Senator 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 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Over the past several decades, Washington has spent tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to deploy outdated networks that fail to meet many communities’ needs and deprive Americans of the opportunity to fully participate in our modern economy. At the same time, millions of Americans have been priced out of high-speed broadband entirely – disproportionately rural areas, high-poverty areas, and communities of color. 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.
“My Administration, with the bipartisan support of Maine lawmakers, is creating the Maine Connectivity Authority to put Maine in the driver’s seat when it comes to using American Rescue Plan funds to expand broadband,” said Maine Governor Janet Mills. “The BRIDGE Act perfectly complements these efforts by providing flexible funding that will allow us to reach further into rural communities and unlock new opportunities for Maine people. It is exactly the type of Federal investment Maine needs now to continue its momentum in expanding broadband. I applaud Senator King, a champion for broadband, and his bipartisan coalition of colleagues for spearheading this important legislation.”
“The Maine State Chamber of Commerce thanks Senator King for his leadership in introducing the BRIDGE Act which will help address one of the most pressing issues of our time, broadband access, especially in rural states like Maine,” said Dana Connors, President and CEO, Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “The BRIDGE Act is a pragmatic, bipartisan approach to empowering states and private investment in closing the digital divide, tackling both the issue of infrastructure and broadband access and equity simultaneously. Growing Maine’s economy depends on our broadband network and Maine’s business community sees the BRIDGE Act as a step in the right direction.”
“At the same time the pandemic has demonstrated the critical nature of a quality high speed connection, it also demonstrated how States have risen to answer that challenge,” said Peggy Schaffer, Executive Director, ConnectMaine Authority. “Under the CARES Act, 20 states put $664M in funds toward broadband infrastructure that was built and serving their citizens in six short months. The American Rescue Plan recognized this effort, thanks in large part to efforts by Senator King and others in making broadband an eligible expense for funding. The Capital Project fund in the ARP took that one step further and will provide funds directly to states to fund state and community lead efforts. The BRIDGE Act continues this landmark strategy by recognizing the critical role states play in bridging the digital divide. This bill is a significant step forward for Maine, and we want to thank Senators King, Bennet, and Portman for their continued leadership to make sure all Americans are connected.”
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 while raising the minimum speeds for new broadband networks to at least 100/100 Mbps, 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.
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. Last week, Senator King introduced the bipartisan Digital Equity Act of 2021, which would create new federal investments targeted toward a diverse array of projects at the state and local level that promote “digital equity”. He played a key role in securing the inclusion of billions of dollars in the American Rescue Plan for broadband investment – which he voted in favor of, and published an op-ed in the Bangor Daily News emphasizing the plan’s historic investment in broadband. 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 has also urged the Biden Administration to update federal standards for high-speed broadband to reflect modern uses, calling for updating the definition of high-speed broadband to 100 megabits per second of upload and download speed.
The BRIDGE Act has drawn overwhelming support from national and state leaders. Supporters include:
“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.
“Every town, neighborhood and family is different, but we all need access to faster, more affordable broadband to work, learn and thrive. Consumers everywhere should cheer the introduction of the BRIDGE ACT as the bipartisan trio of Senators Bennet, King and Portman have constructed a smart and flexible plan to bring faster, more affordable gigabit speed service to communities united in their quest for better broadband services,” said Mignon Clyburn, co-chair of BroadLand, and a former Commissioner for the FCC.
“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.
“Mission Broadband fully supports the BRIDGE Act of 2021 and thanks Senators King, Bennet, and Portman for their strong, unified initiative to bridge the digital divide in this country,” said Jim Rogers, President, Mission Broadband. “The Act clearly prioritizes unserved and underserved areas, and the need to look to the broadband needs of tomorrow, not just today (future proof). At the same time, it ensures affordability and inclusion so on one will be left behind.”
“High speed broadband is the key to unlocking the potential of all Americans,” said Josh Broder, CEO, Tilson Technologies and co-chair of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee. “For too long the digital divide has reinforced social and economic divides. By extending high-speed broadband to all Americans, we can unlock innovation, compete in the world economy, and build a bridge across the digital divide to unite our country. We applaud Senator King and his bipartisan colleagues for championing the BRIDGE Act and the critical work of closing digital divide.”
“The Maine Broadband Coalition, representing a diversity of organizations, companies, governmental agencies and community networks, is grateful for the leadership and tenacity of Senator King in advancing Maine's digital economy, livability and prosperity,” said Andrew Butcher, Director, Maine Broadband Coalition. “The 2021 BRIDGE Act, co-sponsored by Senator's Bennet and Portman represents the type of bipartisan, practical investment in scaling deployment of high speed internet that is needed to equitably benefit all places fostering inclusive innovation and resilient communities."
“High speed internet is extremely important to daily life and the last year highlights how important broadband is to helping people work remotely, making sure students can attend schools, and keeping people connected with their families,” said Nick Battista, Senior Policy Officer at the Island Institute and Chair of the ConnectMaine Authority Board. “Broadband is place based infrastructure and states are best positioned to effectively and quickly deploy broadband funds to meet specific needs. The Bridge Act will help us close the digital divide and Senator King’s leadership should be commended.”
“Senator King has done a great service by introducing the 2021 BRIDGE ACT to support communities struggling to get their citizens connected to the internet,” said Mark Ouellette, CEO, Axiom. “As an Internet Service Provider in rural Maine, we see great hope in this bill to help change the economic status of regions that are unserved or poorly served. By recognizing- not just the importance of a strong connection- but the critical elements to bridge the digital divide, Senator King once again is ahead of the curve and leading the charge on one of the most consequential infrastructure needs in Maine and indeed in our country.”
“Building infrastructure and connecting every home with a robust broadband connection is so important,” said Susan Corbett, Director, National Digital Equity Center. “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.”
“GrowSmart Maine wholeheartedly endorses the BRIDGE Act,” said Nancy Smith, Executive Director, GrowSmart Maine. “This framework for public investments in broadband infrastructure prioritizes public investment in geography where the private sector alone cannot provide equitable access to fast, affordable internet. This bipartisan proposal also empowers local choice in a competitive landscape. As a founding member of the Maine Broadband Coalition, we see this as the best of both worlds with public and private resources focused on what they do best to bring broadband to all of us.”
"The BRIDGE Act is a well-crafted piece of bipartisan legislation building on what the nation has learned over the last decade on how to cost-effectively build future proof networks wherein cooperation, collaboration and clear execution pathways result in very important large-scale societal benefit,” said Fletcher Kittredge, CEO, GWI. “There is also an urgent need to address the digital divide to ensure equity and inclusion which this legislation addresses in a thoughtful fashion. This legislation promotes public/private partnerships to thoughtfully close the digital divide while allowing public investments in networks where no private partner is interested."
“The rural communities we work with want and need universal, reliable, affordable, and future-ready broadband service – not just to thrive, but to simply survive,” said Mike Wilson, Senior Program Director, Northern Forest Center. “The BRIDGE Act addresses critical issues like minimum speed standards, future-proof networks, and increasing competition which is critical to affordability – especially in rural communities. Senator’ King’s steadfast advocacy for more and smarter federal broadband investment is vital to Maine and to the nation.
In addition to the above organizations, the legislation is also supported by 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 Farmers Union; and the National Rural Health Association.