WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Chair of the Senate Environment and Public Works Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Ranking Member of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee, Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) today reintroduced the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (E-BRIDGE) Act, legislation that would remove obstacles for broadband projects to receive Economic Development Administration (EDA) grants. The bill helps ensure local communities can partner with the private sector to implement critical broadband projects.
“Access to broadband is a critical public utility and a necessary resource for the success of any community,” said Senator Cardin. “I am proud of our bipartisan effort to reach the rural areas of Maryland and across the country by expanding the tools to bring the internet and all of its opportunities to every family, every farm or small business, and every person wherever they live and work in this country.”
“As we work to close the digital divide, the last thing rural communities should be worried about is bureaucratic red tape,” Ranking Member Capito said. “Municipalities should be able to partner with local businesses to get broadband projects moving. This simple fix will make more rural communities eligible for EDA grants that aid broadband buildout.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic forced many West Virginians to quickly adjust to working and learning from home. This sudden change to our daily lives put a spotlight on the need to expand broadband access across rural states like West Virginia – because we all know that reliable, affordable broadband access is virtually nonexistent for many West Virginians,” Senator Manchin said. “This bill would help remove a number of regulatory hurdles that currently prevent EDA from engaging in broadband development more broadly, allowing the EDA to provide critical assistance to coal communities and rural areas like West Virginia. Along with their current work, the EDA is looking to expand to assisting communities with broadband access in West Virginia, and I’ve heard from many West Virginians who would welcome the EDA involvement. The E-BRIDGE Act would help them do just that. I urge my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to join our legislation to help expand broadband access for all West Virginians and Americans.”
“There are places in South Carolina you might as well be on the moon when it comes to getting high-speed internet service,” said Senator Graham. “All South Carolinians should be able to utilize the educational, telehealth, and business benefits of accessible and affordable broadband. This legislation will encourage public-private partnerships to expand broadband access to improve connectivity in rural and underserved areas in South Carolina and across the country.”
Specifically, the bill would:
- Eliminate barriers to investments in broadband in distressed communities, making them eligible for EDA grants.
- Clarify that eligible recipients may include public-private partnerships and consortiums to leverage private sector expertise in project development.
- Provide flexibility in the procurement process to account for limited availability of broadband services in distressed communities.
- Clarify that funds can be combined with other federal resources.
- Provide flexibility on accounting for in-kind methods to meet non-federal cost share.
Click here to view the bill text.
Click here for a fact sheet on the bill.
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