U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.), ranking member of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband; Tina Smith (D-Minn.); Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Commerce Committee; and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) today introduced the Connect Unserved Americans Act. This bipartisan legislation would ensure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) targets funding through the ReConnect Program to areas most in need of reliable broadband services. Additionally, it would enhance the coordination between federal agencies that are disbursing broadband funding to prevent the overbuilding of existing broadband networks at the taxpayer’s expense.
“Expanding access to broadband services and connectivity in rural areas across South Dakota has long been a priority for me,” said Thune. “Our bipartisan legislation would help bridge the digital divide by ensuring federal broadband funding goes to truly unserved areas.”
“Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st Century – it isn’t just nice, it’s necessary if we’re going to build an economy that works for everyone,” said Smith. “ReConnect funding helps connect more Minnesotans to high-speed internet, but we need to focus this critical funding on truly unserved areas to ensure that the program is as effective as possible. My bill is one of the many things we have to do in order to connect more Minnesotans and people across the nation with affordable, reliable internet service.”
“I am deeply concerned about the potential for overbuilding existing broadband infrastructure. We have seen this play out before,” said Wicker. “Senator Thune’s legislation would require federal agencies to coordinate their funding decisions and prioritize Americans who are still unserved. This bill would make meaningful strides toward closing the digital divide. I hope it will advance quickly to meet the needs of Americans in rural communities, including those in my state of Mississippi.”
“Without reliable high-speed internet, kids can’t do their homework and local businesses can’t compete,” said Casey. “We must do all that we can to invest in our unserved communities, our children and their future.”
In October 2021, Thune and Smith co-led a bipartisan letter urging USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to continue to grant awards to areas where there is a higher percentage of unserved households, increase USDA’s coordination efforts with other agencies administering broadband programs, and give equal treatment to all applicants.