WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) led a group of 29 senators in reintroducing the Keeping Critical Connections Act, a bipartisan bill to help small broadband providers ensure rural broadband connectivity remains available for students and their families during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As COVID-19 began to sweep through the country and take its toll on the economy, several small broadband providers went out of their way to keep their services available to struggling families who couldn’t otherwise afford them,” said Senator Cramer. “That was the right thing to do, and now it’s our turn to make sure those same companies are not financially damaged simply because they chose to help the American people in a time of need and uncertainty.”
“Access to high speed internet is more critical now than ever for students and their families during the coronavirus pandemic and beyond,” said Senator Klobuchar. “The Keeping Critical Connections Act will help small broadband providers continue providing free or discounted broadband services to ensure that students and families remain connected to school, work, and their communities.”
This legislation would appropriate $2 billion for a Keeping Critical Connections Emergency Fund at the Federal Communications Commission under which small broadband providers with fewer than 250,000 customers could be compensated for broadband services under certain conditions.
It is endorsed by NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and the Broadband Association of North Dakota (BAND).
“Small, community-based providers have led the charge in keeping rural Americans connected during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Shirley Bloomfield, CEO of NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association. “From identifying students who needed broadband access for remote learning and partnering with local health care providers to working with local leaders to help their communities respond to the pandemic, NTCA members answered the call when life moved largely online. On behalf of NTCA’s members, I want to thank Senators Klobuchar and Cramer and 27 of their colleagues for coming together to reintroduce the Keeping Critical Connections Act. This bill will help small business broadband providers – who themselves face struggles in these challenging times – sustain connectivity and keep more Americans online in the face of economic distress.”
"Broadband Association of North Dakota members are appreciative of Senator Cramer's quick recognition of the unique problems COVID-19 brought to our state’s large and - in places - sparsely populated geographic area,” said David Crothers, executive Vice President of BAND. “Learning and teaching moved increasingly online, as did commerce and telehealth, and workers and government employees began doing their jobs remotely. Senator Cramer’s leadership in introducing the Keeping Critical Connections Act will help address the problems locally-owned broadband providers faced as demand and usage skyrocketed.”
Senators Cramer and Klobuchar first introduced this legislation in March of last year and subsequently led letters to President Trump and Senate leaders urging them to support it. Senator Cramer also wrote an op-ed about the bill with Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA) and David Perdue (R-GA) last May, where they highlighted the necessity of broadband access in rural America, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 27 senators cosponsoring the bill led by Senators Cramer and Klobuchar include Senators Tina Smith (D-MN) and John Hoeven (R-ND), as well as Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) who helped lead it in the House last Congress, and Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR), John Barrasso (R-WY), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Cynthia Lummis (R-WY), Mark Kelly (D-AZ), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jerry Moran (R-KS), Mark Warner (D-VA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), John Boozman (R-AR), Gary Peters (D-MI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Dan Sullivan (R-AK), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Josh Hawley (R-MO), and Jacky Rosen (D-NV).