Senator Scott Introduces Two Bills to Expand Rural Broadband

Staff Report

Thursday, August 6th, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted disparities that American families are facing in our country. After the world began to conduct business and everyday life virtually, broadband issues have become well-known in South Carolina and underserved communities across the nation. This week, U.S. Senator Tim Scott introduced two bills addressing broadband issues facing many in our country: The Connecting Minority Communities Act and the Governors Broadband Development Fund.

The Connecting Minority Communities Act, authored by Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), chairman of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, would create a pilot program to provide grants to Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), and Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) to expand access to broadband and digital opportunity in their communities. The Governors Broadband Development Fund, joined by U.S. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), prioritizes funding for areas that currently lack service, supports the deployment of advanced technologies, and encourages projects that can provide internet service quickly.

"Too many South Carolinians, and American families, lack access to the global economy, telehealth, and educational tools due to the lack of broadband technology," said Senator Tim Scott. “These bills will expand access to broadband and digital opportunities, which is needed to bridge the divide for underserved communities. It is critical that we continue to find pathways to increase connectivity for all Americans to ensure that they are equipped with the tools necessary to thrive."

The Connecting Minority Communities Act would:

  • Codify the Minority Broadband Initiative by establishing the Office of Minority Broadband Initiatives at NTIA;

  • Task MBI with working with Federal agencies to determine how to expand access to broadband and other digital opportunities in communities surrounding HBCUs/TCUs/HSIs; and work with HBCUs/TCUs/HSIs, state and local governments, the public, and stakeholders to expand broadband access and digital literacy in these communities;

  • Establish a task force comprised of stakeholders from HBCU/TCU/HSI communities, state and local governments, and industry to advise the MBI;

  • Create the Connected Minority Communities Pilot Program, which would provide $100 million in grants to HBCUs, TCUs, and HSIs to purchase broadband service, broadband equipment (Wi-Fi hot spots, connected devices, routers, and modems), or compensate information technology personnel, to facilitate online learning or to operate a small business or non-profit;

  • Impose accountability measures for the Connected Minority Communities Pilot Program, such as audits and interagency coordination.

The Governors Broadband Development Fund would:

  • Allocate $10 billion to the Broadband Development Fund

  • Each state is provided a minimum of $75 million and the rest of the funding is distributed based on state populations.

    • 30 percent of a state’s funding must be used in Opportunity Zones.

    • South Carolina would receive roughly $170 million from this program.

    • Virginia would receive roughly $237 million from this program.

    • Funding can be used for infrastructure development, providing free or reduced cost broadband service, community center improvements and other applications.

  • The Governors’ Broadband Development Fund prioritizes funding for areas that currently lack service, supports the deployment of advanced technologies, and encourages projects that can provide internet service quickly.

  • This block grant is designed off of the successful USDA ReConnect program, which has seen more than three times the demand than funding available.

Click here to read the Connecting Minority Communities Act.

The Governors Broadband Development Fund is available here.