Washington, D.C. — Senators Ted Budd (R-NC) and Michael Bennet (D-CO) have introduced S. 2663, the Connecting Our Neighbors to Networks and Ensuring Competitive Telecommunications (CONNECT) Act.
The bipartisan bill would streamline the application process for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program in the following ways:
- Establishes a ReConnect Office of Technical Assistance to aid eligible providers with application forms.
- Creates a Mini-Grant Program offering grants up to $20,000 for small providers to offset the cost of the application process.
- Shortens certain permitting deadlines for USDA-funded broadband projects from 270 to 180 days.
- Prioritizes applications from those submitted by a local government, a nonprofit organization, or a cooperative.
- Designates rural areas that receive broadband service via non-wireline technology as eligible for ReConnect funding.
- Creates an interagency Broadband Council to recommend uniform speed and application requirements for federal programs.
- Expands federal easements for certain electric utilities to enable them to lease existing fiber capacity.
The House version of the bill will be led by Reps. Brittany Pettersen (D-CO) and Juan Ciscomani (R-AZ).
The text of the bill is HERE.
Senator Budd said in a statement:
“The USDA’s ReConnect Program has already helped bridge the digital divide in North Carolina, but the application process remains complicated and expensive. This makes it harder for small rural providers to get projects approved. I’m proud to partner with Senator Bennet on bipartisan legislation that will make it easier for more Americans to get access to affordable, high-quality internet.”
Senator Bennet said:
“Broadband is the essential infrastructure of the 21st century, but rural communities across Colorado and the country are being left behind. It’s time Washington made federal programs easier to access for small providers–who are most attuned to the needs of their customers–and strengthened support for local governments, nonprofit organizations, and cooperatives seeking to provide internet service to rural residents.”