In Commerce Hearing, Tester Secures FCC’s Commitment to Rapid Implementation of Broadband Expansion in Infrastructure Bill

Rosenworcel: “The legislation that was just signed into law on Monday is our best shot at closing the digital divide for this generation”

Following the signing of his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, U.S. Senator Jon Tester today pressed Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Director Nominee Jessica Rosenworcel for a commitment to swiftly implement broadband expansion to bring high speed internet to every corner of Montana.

“I don’t need to tell you that internet access has always been a major challenge particularly in rural states like Montana – this pandemic has only exacerbated those challenges,” said Tester. “Now we’ve got the Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act, which I am intimately familiar with, because I’m one of the ten that helped negotiate it. We’re going to see $65 billion in investments in broadband infrastructure there, which should close the digital divide in every state in the union…How do you plan to coordinate with NTIA on implementation of the broadband divisions in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act?”

“The legislation that was just signed into law on Monday is our best shot at closing the digital divide for this generation, so we’re going to have to coordinate with the Department of Commerce which has the primary authority for those funds, like we never have before,” responded Rosenworcel. “We’re going to have to make that a priority going forward, and in anticipation of this legislation, we’ve already signed a memorandum of understanding with data sharing, and we’ve already shared our tower construction notification system with the Department of Commerce – but I want to open up all of our books, and all of our information to them because it’s the only way we’re going to truly execute on these funds and really address the digital divide.

“This bill was passed, it was signed on Monday,” continued Tester. “From your seat on the FCC: how quick do you think we can get these dollars out?”

“I think that the Department of Commerce, if they were asking me for three pieces of advice, first I’d say work with our data, second I’d say make sure there are clear penalties upfront if anyone takes those dollars and doesn’t perform, and third I’d say put some premium on the projects that are ones we can move on fast,” answered Rosenworcel.

Tester, along with four other Democrats and five Republicans, crafted the recently passed bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, and worked to included significant investment in broadband expansion for rural Montana. The legislation will provide $65 billion to expand broadband across the nation, and the policy will be carried out by the Department of Commerce in conjunction with the FCC.

Tester’s legislation includes:

  • $42.45 billion grant program for broadband deployment to areas of the country lacking access to internet service. The program will be distributed in the following manner:
  • A minimum allocation of $100 million to each state. Up to $5 million in funding to support state broadband office activities, including planning, coordination, and grant administration.
  • $4.2 billion of which is set aside for high-cost, geographically-challenged areas that are especially difficult and expensive to deploy broadband infrastructure to.
  • The remaining funding will be allocated to each state using a formula based on that state’s total unserved population.
  • $2 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which will help Tribal entities with broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.
  • $2 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, which provide loans and grants to fund broadband service deployment and maintenance in rural areas.
  • $2.75 billion for the Digital Equity Act, which will help states develop plans and fund projects to make the internet more accessible and provide Americans with the digital skills necessary to participate in a 21st century economy (for example, digital literacy programs for seniors).
  • $14.2 billion to make permanent the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB), which will be renamed the Affordable Connectivity Program. As of November 15, 2021, 12,708 households in Montana have enrolled in this program to get help with their internet bills.
  • Includes additional consumer protection provisions that safeguard against digital redlining and price-gouging.
  • Senator Tester fought to make sure participating households can apply the benefit to any internet service plan of their choosing.
  • The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Development Act, which will help address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry to ramp up the human resources required in order to deploy broadband infrastructure efficiently and effectively.

As a longtime member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Tester has long been a champion for expanding high speed internet access in rural America. This he secured nearly $120 million to expand internet access and improve infrastructure in Montana through the American Rescue Plan.