Relaxed rules could help expand Internet to hard-to-reach areas

By BRENT MARTIN

St. Joseph Post

A
measure that would give local communities more flexibility in using federal
block grant funding to expand broadband has passed the House in Washington and
moves to the Senate.

Northern
Missouri Congressman Sam Graves sponsors the E-BRIDGE legislation and has high
hopes it will move through the Senate and onto President Joe Biden’s desk.

“I’m
pretty optimistic that we’re going to finally get this done this year,” Graves
tells KFEQ/St. Joseph Post. “It’s a very bipartisan bill.”

E-BRIDGE
would allow local communities to use Economic Development Act funds to extend
Internet access to hard-to-reach households.

“And
it doesn’t create a new government program,” Graves says. “What it does is it
helps communities use existing Economic Development Act funds to build out that
so-called last mile of Internet infrastructure.”

It
has been dubbed the last mile of Internet connection, because of the expense of
expanding broadband to remote locations with few residents.

E-BRIDGE,
according to Graves, eliminates barriers to use federal economic development
dollars to invest in broadband to remote areas, allows for public-private
partnerships to extend Internet connections, provides flexibility in the
procurement process as well as accounting procedures to allow in-kind
contributions to count as matching funds.

Graves
says some communities have been left behind in the current economy, because
they lack a reliable broadband connection.

“Some
of our folks that are in rural areas, it’s very expensive to get good Internet
out to some of those remote areas,” Graves says. “So, this is going to help.”

Graves
is optimistic it can pass the Senate, especially since it is bipartisan
legislation.

“In
the Senate it is more about scheduling time than it is anything else,”
according to Graves. “As long as they have the time to be able to get to it and
there’s so many things that are piling up over in the Senate. If it is brought up,
there’s no doubt in my mind that it’ll pass.”

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