Kilmer, Stefanik Introduce Broadband for All Act

The bipartisan Broadband for All Act creates refundable tax credits to bridge the last-mile connectivity gap and help connect more Americans to the nation’s high-speed broadband system

WASHINGTON, DC—Today, Representatives Derek Kilmer (D-WA) and Elise Stefanik (R-NY) introduced the Broadband for All Act. The bill creates refundable tax credits for businesses and groups of people who team up to build the infrastructure that connects them to the country’s existing rural broadband service.

“Too many rural communities are being left behind in our economy because America’s internet infrastructure doesn’t reach them,” Kilmer said. “Connecting communities to high-speed internet will create more economic opportunities for more people in more places. It will lead to new jobs and businesses, empower students by placing new information at their fingertips, and help rural communities get in on the economic growth we’re seeing that’s been largely concentrated in America’s cities.”

“Increasing access to broadband in our district is critical to ensuring our businesses can compete, our economy can grow, and our children have access to the best educational resources,” said Stefanik. “I am pleased to introduce this bipartisan bill with Rep. Kilmer to ensure rural communities like ours can compete in a 21st century economy. This legislation builds off of my efforts to expand broadband by providing tax credits of up to 75 percent for homeowners and businesses to cover the cost of building this critical infrastructure. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.”

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) classifies broadband internet as an internet connection with a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second. For perspective, that is also the minimum speed recommendation for Ultra HD quality streaming on Netflix.

According to the FCC, fewer than two thirds of Americans living in rural areas have access to broadband, while 97 percent of Americans in cities have access to at least the slowest version of broadband internet.

According to Recode the average US household has an internet connection that is nearly three times faster than 25 mbps.  

The Broadband for All Act would create a new tax credit of up to 75 percent for groups of two or more homeowners or businesses to help cover the cost of building the infrastructure needed to get them online. The tax refund applies to any available technology, so each group can choose the best option that bridges the “last-mile” gap between their homes and businesses and the existing broadband service network.

Leveling the Playing Field

In rural Jefferson County, Washington, 81 percent of the population has an internet connection that hits the minimum speed. In neighboring Clallam County, 79 percent of the population can access broadband internet. By comparison, nearly all residents of King County have access to minimum broadband internet if they choose to purchase it.

The lack of broadband access makes it harder to do business. Julie Knott, the Interim Executive Director of the Clallam Economic Development Cooperation, explained the challenges at a recent roundtable meeting with Rep. Kilmer. She said her team organized a business fair in a rural community in March. 

“It doesn’t seem like the internet would be essential at an event like a business fair, but it is sorely missed if it isn’t there. It’s a huge disadvantage,” Knott said “At the Neah Bay Small Business Fair, we had lots of budding businesses, lenders and government leaders. But without internet access we couldn’t run demonstrations from company websites, connect in real time on LinkedIn, or quickly follow up by trading emails.”

At another roundtable discussion in Grays Harbor, a participant from a tribal community mentioned his tribe’s library can’t access the internet, meaning residents need to travel to another area to apply for jobs online, look up health care information or connect with family members on Facebook or through email.

Rod Fleck, the City Attorney and Planner in Forks, Washington, has been working on broadband access in his community for almost two decades. He’s worked with tribal governments who must save large files like grant applications onto a portable USB drive and then hire someone to drive the thumb drive to another community where the documents can be uploaded to the internet for submission.

Fleck said: “Your zip code shouldn’t limit your access to government, educational opportunities, business resources or entertainment. High speed broadband creates a more equal playing field. If Congress passes the Broadband For All Act it will help communities like Forks make the business case for providers to expand to our region, and help grow options for us.”