At Infrastructure Bill Hearing, Tester Calls for Expanded Broadband, Workforce Housing in Rural America
Senator pushes for action to improve access to and affordability of critical 21st century infrastructure
At a U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on the American Jobs Plan today, U.S. Senator Jon Tester spoke about the urgent need to invest in rural America, and called for any infrastructure bill to include significant investments to expand affordable broadband access and workforce housing in Montana.
“Twenty years ago I’m not sure broadband would have been part of any infrastructure bill – but things have changed,” Tester said. “This pandemic has pointed out that whether you want to do business, whether you want to do telehealth, or whether you want to do distance learning, broadband in pretty damn important… the bottom line is that any new broadband has to be targeted to rural areas that don’t have service or are underserved, and it has to be done in a way that gets results.”
Speaking to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, Tester said that the effort must extend beyond simply spending money – ensuring rural America has access to affordable broadband also requires accurate coverage maps, a well-trained workforce to install fiber optics, and carriers that are committed to expanding access in hard-to-reach areas.
Tester also pressed Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Marcia Fudge on the dire need to expand access to housing, and to focus not only on increasing the supply of housing but also to work to ensure that Montanans can afford the housing they need to thrive. Increasing workforce housing is critical for Montana small businesses to continue to be successful.
“Housing is a huge issue in this country,” Tester said. “I don’t care if you’re talking about Ohio or Montana, big city or small city – in Montana it is truly an anchor on our economy and I think it could be said that way throughout the country. Entrepreneurs can’t start up businesses because there’s no place for their employees to live, and existing businesses can’t expand because they’ve got no places for their additional employees to live. It’s a big problem.”
“We’ve just got to make sure this is affordable in the end,” Tester concluded. “It’s critically important.”
As a working farmer in an area with limited cell service, Tester has led the charge to bring reliable wireless service to rural America. He recently secured a commitment from Secretary Raimondo to help bolster broadband in rural areas, and he secured $65 million to implement his bipartisan Broadband DATA Act, which updates federal broadband funding distribution maps to ensure accurate and efficient allocation of resources. He also recently announced a $125 million investment that will help expand high speed internet access in rural Montana, and he secured an additional $10.8 million for rural broadband expansion through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program.
Tester has also led the charge to expand access to housing Montanans can afford. He recently secured more than $15 million in HUD funding made available by the American Rescue Plan to support affordable housing construction, purchasing, or rehabilitation for low- and very-low income families, and earlier this year, he secured a commitment from Fudge that she would work to break down silos preventing affordable housing for Montana workers and Tribes from being built and maintained.
Tester also held a Housing Summit to gather ideas and suggestions from stakeholders and constituents on how to address the growing housing crisis, and in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, he secured $3.3 million to support housing, public health, coronavirus response, and economic disruption needs.