Collins’ bill helps states build last-mile broadband infrastructure in rural areas

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) this week proposed a bipartisan bill that would provide up to $15 billion in federal matching grants to assist states in building the last-mile infrastructure to extend high-speed internet to the nation’s unserved rural areas

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a renewed urgency to ensuring families have a reliable connection to their loved ones, coworkers, schools, and medical services,” Sen. Collins said. “From spurring job creation to supporting telemedicine, access to high-speed internet unlocks almost endless benefits and possibilities. Our bipartisan bill can help bridge the digital divide between urban and rural America by bringing broadband directly to homes and businesses in areas that lack it.”

Sen. Collins sponsored the American Broadband Buildout Act, S. 436, with cosponsor U.S. Sen. Jacky Rosen (D-NV). The bill would authorize federal matching funding for state-level broadband programs, according to the congressional record bill summary, and projects must be located in unserved areas where broadband is unavailable at speeds that meet standards set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

If enacted, S. 436 would require that federal funds be matched through public-private partnerships between the broadband service provider and the state in which the infrastructure project will be built, according to a bill summary provided by Sen. Collins’ office.

The bill also would require that projects be designed to be “future proof,” meaning the infrastructure installed must be capable of delivering higher speeds in the future, the summary says.

Under the measure, the FCC also would be directed to prioritize project funding in states lagging behind the national average in broadband subscribers and those at risk of falling further behind, according to Sen. Collins’ summary, which said grants would be provided to states and state-designated entities for digital literacy and public awareness campaigns highlighting the benefits of high-speed broadband service.

The legislation has garnered endorsements from the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, the Telecommunications Association of Maine, and Mission Broadband.