WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Kevin Cramer (R-ND), along with Tina Smith (D-MN), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Steve Daines (R-MT), Doug Jones (D-AL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Barrasso (R-WY), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Todd Young (R-IN), and Gary Peters (D-MI) introduced the Keeping Critical Connections Act to help small broadband providers ensure rural broadband connectivity for students and their families during the coronavirus pandemic. 

“Access to high speed internet is critical for students and their families during the coronavirus outbreak,” Klobuchar said. “The Keeping Critical Connections Act would help small broadband providers continue offering free or discounted broadband services to families and students in rural areas to ensure they remain connected to school, work, and their communities during this period of economic turmoil caused by the coronavirus pandemic.”  

“The federal government asked this essential industry to keep providing assistance to people during COVID—19, and they answered the call,” Cramer said. “The least we can do is make sure they are made whole when this pandemic is over.” 

The Keeping Critical Connections Act would appropriate $2 billion for a Keeping Critical Connections fund at the FCC under which small broadband providers with fewer than 250,000 customers could be compensated for broadband services—if they provided free or discounted broadband services or upgrades—during the pandemic for low-income families who could not afford to pay their bills or provided distance learning capability for students. The bill is endorsed by NTCA—the Rural Broadband Association, WTA – Advocates for Rural Broadband, Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), the Minnesota Telecommunications Alliance, and the Broadband Association of North Dakota (BAND).

“Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st Century. It isn’t just nice to have, it’s necessary—especially during the coronavirus pandemic,” Smith said. “Students who are finishing up their school year at home need to be able to connect to online classes. Employees who are working from home are counting on broadband to help them do their jobs. And folks are relying on the internet to help them access care through telehealth, which is also made possible by amazing health care workers. I’m glad to work in a bipartisan way to help Minnesotans stay connected during this time.”

Representatives Peter Welch (D-VT-AL) and Roger Marshall (R-KS-01) are introducing companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“With millions of people required to stay home and students across the country learning from home, broadband access is essential,” Welch said. “Small providers get it – the service they provide is a lifeline to parents and children who need to learn, work, and stay connected with loved ones during these difficult times. This bill ensures small providers can continue to provide their essential service during and after this crisis. We should pass this bipartisan bill immediately.”

“Now more than ever we’re seeing how important it is to have access to a fast and reliable broadband connection,” Marshall said. “With the closure of Kansas schools along with more and more people adopting teleworking procedures, our rural telecommunications providers are working around the clock to ensure students, communities, and businesses have reliable internet access, no matter where they live. This bill will provide assistance to small companies trying to address the unique rural telecommunications needs posed by the coronavirus pandemic, and ensure that all Americans can remain connected during this difficult time.”

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