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Baldwin, Ernst Lead Bipartisan Bill to Expand Access to Internet in Rural America

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced bipartisan legislation to expand access to broadband in rural areas and ease the burden of regulatory costs for smaller broadband providers that rural communities rely on. The legislation is also co-sponsored by Senators Krysten Sinema (I-AZ), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA).

“Wisconsinites in rural communities rely on high-speed internet to start a business, manage their farms, work remotely, and attend school online, and I’m committed to ensuring families in every corner of the state have the internet access they need to participate fully in our economy,” said Senator Baldwin. “I am proud to work with Republicans and Democrats to ease burdensome regulations for small broadband providers and help expand reliable, affordable broadband to more Wisconsinites.”

“Due to red tape, many Iowans in rural areas still lack access to the high-speed internet and quality broadband services they need for school and work,” said Senator Ernst. “As baseless bureaucracy continues to make it more difficult to expand broadband access, I will keep pushing to cut regulations and unleash our local telecom companies on behalf of rural communities everywhere.” 

The Access to Capital Creates Economic Strength and Supports (ACCESS) Rural America Act would provide regulatory relief to rural telecommunications service providers by allowing them to submit streamlined financial reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These small companies—many of which are the sole service providers in their region—could be put out of business by looming regulatory costs. Specifically, this bipartisan legislation would increase the number of investors that triggers SEC public reporting requirements for rural telecommunications companies. This will save these small companies from costly SEC reporting requirements that were never intended for them.

“Lakeland Communications is a rural local community-based provider in northwest Wisconsin and our communities are thrilled to see Senator Baldwin introduce a ACCESS bill that will help us and other community based Broadband providers across the nation to be freed up to deploy more fiber optic networks in Wisconsin. Just in time to utilize the federal BEAD program that is providing 42.4 billion dollars in funding that is needed in our high capital Intensive industry to construct and maintain state of the art fiber optic networks,” said John Klatt, President and CEO of Lakeland Communications in Milltown, WI. “The nation needs us more, now than ever, to fulfil the need to build out and with this long-awaited relief it will relieve small providers like us from costly and burdensome unintended restrictions of 2002 SOX SEC regulations that were intended for large corporations with SOX safeguards. This bill and its passage will enable us to get back to doing more network building and supporting the business of the good people of rural Wisconsin and less monies spent on SEC regulation compliance. We are hopeful that this bill will be successful in our bicameral possesses and become law as soon as possible. Thank you, Senator Baldwin!”

“Federal Securities and Exchange Commission registration and reporting requirements intended for larger, publicly-traded firms pose significant challenges for, and can impose substantial burdens on, smaller, locally-owned companies with limited resources.  NTCA therefore greatly appreciates the leadership of Senator Tammy Baldwin in introducing the ACCESS Rural America Act, which will help relieve these burdens and enable small providers to focus more on their core mission of deploying and operating advanced broadband networks in rural areas,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA–The Rural Broadband Association.

Full text of this legislation is available here.