We can quickly BOOST broadband internet access to rural Americans
By Rep. John Moolenaar (MI-04) and Sarah Chamberlain
In late 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) announced $9.2 billion in awards through its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) to communities across the country that will be distributed evenly over the next 10 years. My home state of Michigan received $362 million, Illinois received more than $378 million, and New York– after a lot of work from Rep. Elise Stefanik – received nearly $100 million to deploy broadband across to nearly 50,000 unserved locations.
The U.S. Census Bureau in late 2019 estimated that 15 million American households were below the federal minimum standard for broadband speeds, with more than a third of them without any broadband connection. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) says 39% of rural Americans lack access to 25 Mbps/3Mbps, compared to only 4% of people living in cities. Meanwhile, industry watchdog Broadband Now puts the number at 42 million Americans.
The challenge is the scope of the problem and how long it will take to roll out the service (the RDOF gives providers up to 10 years to reach all assigned locations), including states that received the least amount of funding (New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts).
That’s why we believe my legislation, the Broadening Online Opportunities through Simple Technologies (BOOST) Act (H.R. 1362), can provide a faster way for American families to get more reliable Internet service in their homes. Simply put, it would create a one-time refundable tax credit of up to $300 for the household purchase of a simple signal booster or mobile hot-spot equipment.
Who would be impacted?
Students who are stuck at home during the pandemic, struggling to keep up with their schoolwork.
Employees working from home, trying to log on to video or web conferencing calls or work collaboratively with their coworkers on projects.
Seniors using telemedicine services in lieu of visiting doctors’ offices during the pandemic.
Farmers and ranchers who need broadband to follow commodity markets, communicate with customers, and access new markets around the world.
The BOOST Act enables families to connect to the Internet by creating their own Internet hotspots or by boosting the speed of a connection they already have. The tax credit in this bipartisan bill would expire when the broadband speed in the household’s area reaches the federal minimum standard or after the credit sunsets in five years. It is also technology neutral, so families could use it to purchase the solution that works best for them, whether it is equipment to receive Internet from a satellite or a signal booster.
As of now, there are 16 co-sponsors of the BOOST Act. This group of five Democrats and 11 Republicans, includes Reps. Mike Bost, Bob Gibbs, Bill Huizenga, Lisa McClain, and Elise Stefanik, all members of the Republican Main Street Partnership, who work together to pass kitchen table legislation, and Rep. Jack Bergman.
Sarah and I have talked to parents who are worried about their children falling behind in school or losing opportunities at work because of their Internet connection. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated how much of a necessity that broadband is in our current world and we can do something about it now, rather than waiting years. The BOOST Act will help those who have been facing these challenges.
This legislation recognizes that Main Street Americans want us focusing on governance over rancorous rhetoric. It recognizes the challenges ahead and works to help families instead of making them wait longer for an Internet connection they would like to have sooner rather than later. We will continue to work to pass this legislation and we hope members of Congress from across the nation will help us pass the BOOST Act. You can help by letting your congressperson know you support this bill.
Rep. John Moolenaar (MI-04) represents residents in mid and northern Michigan. Sarah Chamberlain is president and CEO of the Republican Main Street Partnership, an alliance of more than 60 Republican members of Congress who have demonstrated a willingness to cross the aisle to pass kitchen-table legislation.