Gianforte Introduces Bill to Increase Broadband Access
Congressman Greg Gianforte (R-Mont.) yesterday introduced a bill to increase access to broadband.
“As we have found amid the COVID-19 crisis, it’s more critical than ever that Montanans across our state have access to fast, reliable broadband. By creating a standard fee, local service providers and the federal government will be able to work together to bring broadband and wireless services to underserved areas,” Gianforte said. “I look forward to moving this bill forward and will continue working to bridge the digital divide.”
Gianforte’s Standard Fees to Expedite Evaluation and Streamlining Act, or Standard FEES Act, establishes a common fee for processing applications to deploy communications facilities on federal property, a process that will boost connectivity for rural and frontier areas.
Montana lags other states in access to broadband. According to the Federal Communications Commission, about 1 in 3 Montanans do not have access to broadband, which is three times the national average. The digital divide particularly hurts rural Montana where 3 in 5 Montanans do not have access to broadband.
Gianforte’s Standard FEES Act, H.R. 7350, will permit local providers to partner with federal agencies to expand delivery of broadband services to more frontier and rural communities.
The uniform fee across the federal agencies will provide greater clarity for service providers and increase investment in wireless and broadband technology for Montana’s rural and frontier communities.
Gianforte’s bill builds upon his efforts to increase broadband access and bridge the digital divide in Montana. In 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Rural Broadband Permitting Efficiency Act, introduced by Gianforte and Rep. John Curtis (R-Utah), that boosts deployment of broadband in rural and frontier communities by streamlining the federal permitting process for broadband infrastructure projects.
Oregon Congressman and Republican Leader of the Energy and Commerce Committee Greg Walden said, “More than 21 million Americans could not access broadband before COVID-19, and the pandemic has made even more clear how vital these services are as Americans work, learn, and receive health care from home. I appreciate Rep. Gianforte's leadership in introducing the Standard FEES Act. Republicans are leading the way to close the digital divide for all Americans.”
Upon the bill’s introduction, Blackfoot Communications, a Missoula-based service provider operating in Western Montana and Eastern Idaho, offered its support.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how important reliable, high-speed broadband is for education, health care, access to government services, remote working and home entertainment. We are grateful to Congressman Gianforte for introducing the Standard FEES Act which facilitates access to federal property for deploying broadband facilities to our customers. Together, we can connect the unconnected and keep or upgrade service to those who need it most,” said Jason Williams, CEO of Blackfoot.