News Releases

Murray Re-Introduces Bill to Provide Broadband Access to Rural Areas

Jun 19 2003

Rural Areas Legislation would provide grants to encourage community telecommunications planning to bring hi-speed Internet access to rural and underserved areas

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - In an effort to bring high-speed internet access to rural and underserved communities, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash.) today reintroduced her bill to provide $60 million in grants each year to help these areas obtain broadband and high-speed internet access.

The Community Telecommunications Planning Act (S.1294) would establish planning and market development grants to help local and tribal governments, non-profits, public utilities, cooperatives, ports and other public groups to develop effective, local plans to bring high-speed internet access to their areas.

Murray’s legislation was first introduced in the 107th Congress and attached to the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill, but was removed in conference with the House.

“Washington state’s innovative people and high-tech companies have helped move America’s economy into the 21st Century. Unfortunately, the benefits are not reaching every area. Washington’s small and rural communities still face too many barriers in getting connected to advanced telecommunications,” Senator Murray said. “This bill can open the door for thousands of small and rural areas in Washington state to tap the potential of the information economy.”

Senator Murray’s Community Telecommunications Planning Act would provide rural and underserved communities with grant money for creating community and market plans, technical assessments and other analytical work. Specifically, the grant program would assist communities by:

- Encouraging broad community involvement in the planning process, including active involvement by K-12 students;

- Focusing on the needs of a wide range of community interests, including education, health care, and local business;

- Helping identify potential solutions for those needs through an advanced telecommunications technology; and

- Providing a means to develop a market strategy to attract providers of that technology.

“Right now the federal government already provides money to help communities plan for other infrastructure improvements - everything from roads and bridges to wastewater facilities. I believe that advanced telecommunications are the infrastructure of the future, and the federal government should help communities plan for that new infrastructure as well,” Murray said.

“But before areas can take advantage of some of the help and incentives that are out there, they need to work together and go through a community planning process. Community plans identify needs, assess demand, create a vision for the future, and show what all the players must do to meet the telecom needs of their community.”

U.S. Representative Jay Inslee will introduce companion legislation in the House.

“Communities all over Washington are brimming with business ingenuity and strong demand for high-speed Internet access, yet it is increasingly clear that many of them need planning assistance to develop the necessary infrastructure. The funding provided by this legislation offers our communities a key to unlock the Information economy and open doors to many more opportunities,” Inslee said. “I commend Senator Murray for identifying this critical need and I look forward to working with her to move this bill in the 108th Congress.”

Senator Murray has been a champion for helping underserved and rural communities gain access to high-speed internet services both in Washington state and nationwide. She cosponsored the Broadband Tax Credit Act, which provides tax credits for broadband infrastructure investment and the Broadband Internet Access Act of 2003 to encourage companies to build broadband technology in rural areas.

Murray has also hosted a series of Regional Telecommunications Conferences in Spokane, Wenatchee, Colville, Bremerton, and Walla Walla to bring together local and community leaders to share information, success stories, challenges and strategies to ensure that all communities gain access to advanced telecommunications services.

Senators Boxer (D-CA), Cantwell (D-WA), Kennedy (D-MA), Leahy (D-VT) and Pryor (D-AR) joined Senator Murray in introducing the bill.

* * * * Senator Murray's remarks introducing the bill follow:

Mrs. MURRAY. Mr. President, I rise today to introduce legislation to help rural and underserved communities across the country get connected to the information economy.

Today I am introducing the Community Telecommunication Planning Act of 2003. I am proud to have Senators Boxer, Cantwell, Kennedy, Leahy, and Pryor as original cosponsors. This bill will give small and rural communities a new tool to attract high speed services and economic development.

Representative Inslee from my home state, along with several other members, will soon introduce a companion bill in the House. I appreciate him working with me to meet this challenge.

I am especially proud of how this legislation came about. For the last four years, I’ve been working with a group of community leaders in Washington state to find ways to help communities get connected to advanced telecommunications services.

Mr. President, I want to take a moment to thank the members of my Rural Telecommunication Working Group for their hard work on this bill. The members include: Brent Bahrenburg, Gregg Caudell, Dee Christensen, Dave Danner, Louis Fox, Tami Garrow, Larry Hall, Rod Fleck, Ray King, Dale King, Terry Lawhead, Dick Llarman, Jim Lowery, Jim Miller, Joe Poire, Skye Richendrfer, Ted Sprague, Jim Schmit, and Ron Yenney.

We met as a working group, and we held forums around the state that attracted hundreds of people. We’ve tapped the ideas of experts, service providers and people from across the state who are working to get their communities connected. The result is this legislation, which I am proud to say is part of Washington state’s contribution to our national effort to connect all parts of our country to the Internet.

The bill was originally introduced in the 107th Congress. I was able to attach a version of it to the Farm Bill. Unfortunately, the provision was removed during Conference.

Mr. President, this bill addresses a real need in many communities. While urban and suburban areas have strong competition between telecommunications providers, many small and rural communities are far removed from the services they need.

We must ensure that all communities have access to advanced telecommunications like high speed internet access and the wireless Internet. Just as yesterday’s infrastructure was built of roads and bridges, today our infrastructure includes advanced telecom services.

Advanced telecommunications can enrich our lives through activities like distance-learning, and they can even save lives through efforts like telemedicine. The key is access. Access to these services is already turning some small companies in rural communities into international marketers of goods and services. Unfortunately, many small and rural communities are having trouble getting the access they need. Before communities can take advantage of some of the help and incentives that are out there, they need to work together and go through a community planning process. Community plans identify the needs and level of demand, create a vision for the future, and show what all the players must do to meet the telecom needs of their community for today and tomorrow. These plans take resources to develop, and my bill would provide those funds.

Providers say they're more likely to invest in an area if it has a plan that makes a business case for the costly infrastructure investment. Communities want to provide them with that plan, but they need help developing it. Unfortunately, many communities get stuck on that first step. They don’t have the resources to do the studies and planning required to attract service. So the members of my Working Group came up with a solution: have the federal government provide competitive grants that local communities can use to develop their plans. I took that idea and put it into this bill.

After determining what services they need, communities must then go out and make a market case to providers. That is why I’ve added “market development” to the list of allowable uses of grant funding.

While this bill deals with new technology, it’s really just an extension of the infrastructure support the federal government traditionally provides to communities.

The federal government already provides money to help communities plan other infrastructure improvements - everything from roads and bridges to wastewater facilities. Because today’s economic infrastructure includes advanced telecom services, I believe the federal government should provide similar support for local technology infrastructure.

In summary, this bill would provide rural and underserved communities with grant money for creating community plans, technical assessments and other analytical work, and it would allow these communities to use the funding to market these plans to providers.

With these grants, communities will be able to turn their desire for access into real access that can improve their communities and strengthen their economies. This bill can open the door for thousands of small and rural areas across our country to tap the potential of the information economy.

I urge the Senate support this bill, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to see it passed.