Nov 23, 2021 3:18 PM

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

Posted Nov 23, 2021 3:18 PM

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.”