Bennet Introduces Legislation to Help Bridge Digital Divide by Deploying Affordable, High-Speed Broadband Nationwide

Senator’s BRIDGE Act of 2020 Would Provide Flexible Funding to States and Tribal Governments to Deploy “Future-Proof” Broadband Networks Able to Meet Communities' Needs for Years to Come

Washington, D.C. – Today, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet introduced the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy (BRIDGE) Act of 2020 to deploy affordable, high-speed broadband networks nationwide. 

This legislation would provide $30 billion in flexible funding to States and $1 billion to Tribal Governments to deploy affordable, high-speed broadband in unserved and underserved communities nationwide, provided newly built networks meet minimum requirements for speed and affordability. The bill requires States and Tribal Governments to competitively award funding and incents applicants that can quickly start and complete construction, demonstrate community support, and offer gigabit-level speeds. It also raises the minimum speed requirements for any funded network to no less than 100/100 Mbps (megabits per second), while requiring low latency for modern uses like videoconferencing. The legislation also preempts restrictions on the ability of communities to deploy their own broadband networks and accelerates an overhaul of the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) data collection. 

“Affordable, high-speed broadband is essential to full participation in modern American life, allowing people to telework, learn remotely, and access telemedicine,” said Bennet. “However, millions of Americans still lack access – disproportionately from our rural areas, low-income neighborhoods, and communities of color. Even when communities have access, many are stuck with slow speeds, high costs, and few choices. Over the past few decades, Washington has spent tens of billions of taxpayer dollars to deploy slow, outdated broadband networks that fail to meet the needs of communities in Colorado and across the country. The BRIDGE Act will invest in a 21st century broadband infrastructure able to meet America’s needs not only today, but for years to come.” 

Bennet’s BRIDGE Act of 2020 would:

  • Provide $30 billion to States and $1 billion to Tribal Governments to connect unserved communities, hospitals, schools, libraries, and other local anchor institutions to high-speed broadband that can meet their long-term needs. 
  • Emphasize affordability by requiring new broadband networks to provide at least one low-cost option for low-income families. 
  • Encourage gigabit-level internet wherever possible while raising the minimum speeds for new broadband networks to at least 100/100 Mbps, much higher than the current definition of 25/3 Mbps set by the FCC and the 10/1 Mbps definition set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. 
  • Increase choice and competition by lifting bans against municipal broadband networks and allowing more entities to compete for funding. 
  • Improve broadband data by funding the Federal Communications Commission’s data overhaul while setting a one-year deadline for its completion. 
  • Strengthen transparency and accountability with requirements to publicize eligible funding areas, conduct an evidence-based challenge process, and require applicants to return awarded funds if they fail to meet project requirements. 

Before and after the outbreak of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Bennet has taken several steps to help close the digital divide. In May, Bennet introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act to help students access mobile hotspots and Wi-Fi enabled devices during the pandemic. Bennet called on the FCC to coordinate with other federal agencies to ensure that the millions of Americans newly eligible for SNAP or Medicaid due to the pandemic are also informed of their eligibility for the Lifeline program, which offers discounted internet access for low-income Americans. In March, Bennet also wrote to the FCC to ensure Americans are not disconnected from the Lifeline program during the crisis and called on the country’s top internet companies to keep families connected and to waive data caps and overage fees until the pandemic has abated. Last year, Bennet introduced the Broadband Transparency and Accountability Act to reform how internet companies report data on the availability of affordable, quality broadband across the country. 

The bill text is available HERE. A section by section summary of the bill is available HERE. A one page summary of the bill is available HERE