Tester Bill Would Send $2 Billion to Rural Communities to Keep Internet Service During COVID-19 Crisis

Senator’s legislation would assist rural broadband providers as they roll out free or discounted services to underserved areas

With more Montana families relying on online services for work and education during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today introduced bipartisan legislation to compensate broadband providers for giving free or discounted services and upgrades to low-income families in rural areas.

“As this pandemic demands more and more Montanans stay home and makes them increasingly reliant on the internet, it’s critical that folks in rural communities can stay connected,” said Tester. “With schools transitioning to online learning and parents relying on internet access to get their next paycheck, rural broadband is more essential now than ever. This bill will help ensure Montanans in rural areas aren’t left behind in the face of this crisis.”

Tester’s bipartisan Keeping Critical Connections Act will establish a $2 billion fund at the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to compensate rural broadband providers with fewer than 250,000 customers for offering free or discounted services to families who are struggling to keep up with their bills due to the COVID-19 outbreak. This legislation will help students in rural areas stay on top of their education as they transition to online learning and allow families to stay connected as more Montanans stay home.

As a farmer in an area with spotty cellular and internet access, Tester has championed efforts to make broadband services more accessible to folks in rural and frontier communities amid the COVID-19 crisis. Last week, he demanded that the FCC expand access for the Rural Health Care Program-which works to provide telehealth resources to rural areas-and his bill to make broadband mapping more accurate and expand access for rural communities recently cleared the U.S. Senate.