Senators Smith, Thune, Wicker, Casey Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Increase Access to Rural Broadband

WASHINGTON, D.C. [2/7/22]— Today, U.S. Sens. Tina Smith (D-Minn.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) introduced the Connect Unserved Americans Act. This bipartisan legislation would ensure that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) targets funding through the ReConnect Program to areas most in need of reliable broadband services. Additionally, it would enhance the coordination between federal agencies that are disbursing broadband funding to prevent the overbuilding of existing broadband networks at the taxpayers expense.  

“Broadband is the infrastructure of the 21st Century – it isn’t just nice, it’s necessary if we’re going to build an economy that works for everyone,” said Smith. “ReConnect funding helps connect more Minnesotans to high-speed internet, but we need to focus this critical funding on truly unserved areas to ensure that the program is as effective as possible. My bill is one of the many things we have to do in order to connect more Minnesotans and people across the nation with affordable, reliable internet service.”

“Expanding access to broadband services and connectivity in rural areas across South Dakota has long been a priority for me,” said Thune. “Our bipartisan legislation would help bridge the digital divide by ensuring federal broadband funding goes to truly unserved areas.”

“I am deeply concerned about the potential for overbuilding existing broadband infrastructure. We have seen this play out before,” said Wicker. “Senator Thune’s legislation would require federal agencies to coordinate their funding decisions and prioritize Americans who are still unserved. This bill would make meaningful strides toward closing the digital divide. I hope it will advance quickly to meet the needs of Americans in rural communities, including those in my state of Mississippi.”

“Without reliable high-speed internet, kids can’t do their homework and local businesses can’t compete,” said Casey. “We must do all that we can to invest in our unserved communities, our children and their future.”

Senator Smith has been pushing for broadband deployment to the most underserved rural areas since coming to the Senate. In October 2021, Sen. Smith co-led a letter with Sen. Thune urging USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack to continue to grant broadband access awards to areas where there is a higher percentage of unserved households. In June 2020, Sen. Smith led a group of Senators in pushing the USDA to quickly disperse ReConnect funds from the CARES Act.