In a vote of 69 to 30, the Senate passed the bipartisan Infrastructure, Investment and Jobs Act earlier this week.
High speed internet will make up $65 billion of the $1 trillion package. Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of the Rural Broadband Association, says roughly two-thirds of that budget will go to deployment.
“That is deployment for those who are completely unserved, which means that an area has 80 percent of 25 three-speeds or less, and then it will tier up to underserved, so those communities that ere 80 percent don’t have access to 100/20,” she says.
Bloomfield says every state will be guaranteed a baseline $100 million grant in NATO Communications Information (NCI) Agency support. The remaining funds will be competitive based on need.
“That way you won’t have smaller states or larger states being able to access more of the funding, so that’s going to be a really important tranche in terms of literally getting money out into the field,” says Bloomfield.
The initiative also has a focus on affordability. The FCC implemented the Emergency Broadband Benefit program, which will expire when the Department of Health and Human Services declares the pandemic is over. Bloomfield says this legislation will make it permanent.
“That will help up really focus on how we make sure that we connect everybody regardless of your situation,” she says. “Then there’s also going to be some pieces that will focus on access to devices and tribal. There will be a number of other provisions.”
This infrastructure bill still has to go through the House. Sec. Tom Vilsack says the importance of getting this bill to President Biden’s desk needs to be underscored.
“We’re excited about the role that USDA has played under the Reconnect Program and will continue to play to upgrade and ultimately expand access to this important and vital technology for competitiveness and economic opportunity in the future,” he says.