WELLSVILLE (WENY) – Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer was in Allegany County Monday, touting the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the provisions in it that aim to expand broadband access in underserved rural and urban communities.
According to the FCC, 23% of Allegany County’s population – nearly 10,800 residents – do not have access to broadband internet.
Locally, 10% of Steuben County’s population is without broadband access; that equals out to 39,283 households. Three and a half percent of Tioga County (19,991 households) do not have broadband access; 1.9% of Chemung County (33,490), 1.4% of Tompkins County (40,322) and 2.6% of Schuyler County are also without broadband access.
“Long before COVID-19, rural and urban communities throughout the Southern Tier have struggled to close the digital divide,” said Senator Schumer. “Access to reliable, fast internet service is crucial to success in today’s modern economy, which is why I fought to include a historic investment to expand high-speed internet access to underserved communities in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.”
According to Schumer, the infrastructure bill sets aside $65 billion to expand broadband access through the following ways:
- $42.45 billion for Broadband Deployment Grants to States, D.C., Puerto Rico, and Territories
- Provides funding to the states to close the digital-divide in high-cost, unserved and underserved communities.
- $14.2 billion for Permanent Broadband Affordability
- Provides funding to create the new Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The ACP begins when funding for the Emergency broadband Benefit is exhausted, ensuring that qualified households will be able to access affordable high-speed internet beyond the COVID-19 emergency period. The ACP expands affordability support by broadening eligibility to 200% of the federal poverty level, adds coverage for WIC recipients, and strengthens the long-term availability of support for qualified households. The ACP protects consumer choice by guaranteeing that eligible households may use the benefit for ANY broadband service offering, preventing providers from restricting it to only certain service plans.
- $2.75 billion for Digital Equity and Inclusion
- Funding for states to provide digital literacy and digital skills education to low-income or senior populations, improving the online accessibility of social services for individuals with disabilities, or more accurately measuring broadband access and adoption in rural communities.
- $2 billion for the USDA ReConnect Loan and Grant Program
- Increases the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Loan and Grant Program and Rural Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program to connect the most rural and hard-to-reach rural areas.
- $2 billion for the Tribal Connectivity Fund
- Additional funding for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, building on the program established in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021 that was passed in December 2020. This flexible funding will allow Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiians to meet their most urgent broadband needs, including deployment, affordability, and digital inclusion efforts.
- $1 billion for Middle Mile Broadband infrastructure
- Funding to assist efforts by small providers, non-profits, planning and development organizations, utilities, and others across the country to build out middle-mile infrastructure in order to drive down costs and ensure the infrastructure exists to build out to last-mile households
- $600 million For broadband specific Private Activity Bonds
- The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act authorizes certain broadband projects as eligible activities for tax-exempt private activities bonds. Private activity bonds are bonds issued by state and local governments used to finance projects in partnership with the private sector.