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Senator Baldwin Delivers Results to Expand Broadband for Rural and Underserved Communities in Wisconsin

Baldwin’s reforms to support broadband deployment were successfully included in the year-end, bipartisan government funding legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, worked to include a number of measures in the year-end, bipartisan government funding legislation to expand broadband and internet access for rural and underserved communities in Wisconsin. This government funding bill was signed into law at the end of last year.

“The bipartisan federal funding legislation that was signed into law includes many reforms and investments that I worked for to strengthen our internet infrastructure to better serve our rural and underserved communities, and bridge the digital divide for people in all parts of our country,” said Senator Baldwin. “Now more than ever, we must expand broadband access so folks can stay connected to their work, school and communities during this pandemic. By making new investments in broadband deployment in Wisconsin and throughout the nation, we can help more workers, students, families and businesses gain better access to high-speed internet.”

Emergency Broadband Assistance for Workers and Families

A new $3.2 billion program to provide a monthly broadband benefit to low-income households during the pandemic was secured in the bipartisan government funding legislation. This new program was based off of the Baldwin-supported Emergency Broadband Connections Act, which will now provide a $50/month benefit to workers who have been laid off or furloughed during the pandemic, along with a range of other assistance to ensure families can access critical online services. 

ACCESS Broadband Act

Among the bipartisan reforms included in the final government funding bill was the ACCESS BROADBAND Act, legislation cosponsored by Senator Baldwin to foster the development and growth of broadband resources for businesses as well as underserved urban and rural communities in Wisconsin, and throughout the country. 

This reform will require the U.S. Department of Commerce to establish the Office of Internet Connectivity and Growth within the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). This will help streamline processes for local businesses to access federal broadband resources through a simplified application process and better oversight of federal broadband support programs.

Broadband Interagency Coordination Act

The year-end, bipartisan government funding bill includes provisions from the bipartisan Broadband Interagency Coordination Act that was cosponsored by Baldwin to direct the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the NTIA, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to better coordinate the distribution of federal funds for broadband deployment. This will ensure investments in broadband deployment are targeted to unserved and underserved areas.

Major Broadband Deployment Investments

In her role on the Appropriations Committee, Senator Baldwin continues fighting for federal funding to improve internet access for Wisconsinites, regardless of their zip code. Below is a breakdown of federal broadband investments that were secured in the year-end, bipartisan government funding legislation.

  • $1.9 Billion to Fund the FCC’s Rip-and-Replace Communications Security Program: The broadband package fully funds the FCC’s reimbursement program to remove unsecure communications equipment from the nation’s communications networks. It also expands eligibility for the rip-and-replace reimbursement program to communications providers with 10 million subscribers or less, but still prioritizes reimbursement for providers with 2 million subscribers or less.
  • $65 Million for Better Broadband Maps: The package fully funds the FCC’s development of new, more accurate broadband availability maps as directed by Congress in Senator Baldwin’s Broadband DATA Act. These maps will help the federal government better target support for broadband deployment.
  • $285 Million for Connecting Minority Communities: The package establishes an Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) and includes $285 million to support Historically black colleges and universities, Tribal colleges and universities, and minority-serving education institutions, including when they partner with minority-owned businesses, to expand broadband capacity and availability at schools and in communities, including by assisting students afford broadband service. 
  • $250 Million for Additional FCC Support for Telehealth: The package provides an additional $250 million to the FCC for its COVID-19 Telehealth Program, which was authorized under the CARES Act, to boost telehealth resources for those requiring online health care services.
  • $1 Billion for a Dedicated Tribal Broadband Connectivity Grant Program: The bill establishes a $1 billion grant program at NTIA to support broadband connectivity on tribal lands throughout the country. The grants will be directed to tribal governments to be used not only for broadband deployment on tribal lands, but also telehealth, distance learning, broadband affordability, and digital inclusion. 
  • $300 Million to Promote Broadband Expansion to Unserved Americans: The bill establishes a $300 million broadband deployment grant program at NTIA to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas. The grants would be issued to qualifying partnerships between state and local governments and fixed broadband providers. Priority for grants would be given to networks that would reach the most unserved consumers.