Friday, August 4, 2006 

[WASHINGTON, DC] - U.S Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) says a national policy is
needed to accelerate the deployment of broadband internet service to rural
areas so that every American can have high-speed internet access no matter
where they live. Today, Durbin introduced legislation, the Broadband for
Rural America Act of 2006, to encourage the rapid deployment of
high-quality, affordable broadband internet service, especially in rural

"Broadband is an essential component of our lives, at work and at home. It
has become an essential service like water, gas and electricity. Our homes
and businesses need affordable access to high speed internet connections, in
the same way our homes and businesses need traditional utility services,"
said Durbin. "Yet, for too many people living in small communities today,
broadband access is still not a reality. When I travel in downstate
Illinois, people tell me that they cannot wait to have broadband service,
but that there is no service available to them right now. My bill will
change that." 

Two recent reports -- one issued by the U.S. Department of Commerce and the
other by the U.S. Department of Agriculture - found that rural and farm
households have access to broadband internet at approximately half the level
of all U.S. households nationwide. Another respected research organization,
the Pew Internet and American Life Project, found similar results. In its
2006 report, Pew found that only 18% of rural adults reported a home
broadband connection, compared to 31% of urban adults. All of these studies
point to a consistent conclusion: Americans living in urban areas are almost
twice as likely to have home broadband access as do their rural

Durbin said broadband is critical to community and economic development, as
it encourages investment, creates jobs, improves productivity, fosters
innovation, and increases consumer benefits in every corner of our nation. A
recent study found that adoption of current generation broadband would
increase the gross domestic product by $179.7 billion, while adding
approximately 61,000 jobs per year over the two decades. The study also
projected 1.2 million jobs could be created if next generation broadband
technology were rapidly deployed. 

"We need to close the digital divide, ensuring that rural Americans are not
left behind in the 21st Century's digital economy," Durbin noted. "Whether
it is through telephone wire, cable, fiber, satellite, wireless or any other
medium, we need every existing and future broadband service provider to step
up to the national challenge." 

Durbin said his bill includes four major provisions. Each is designed to
focus on identifying obstacles that hinder broadband deployment in rural
America today, and to find innovative solutions to address those concerns. 

Creates Broadband Trust Fund: creates a new federal program specifically
targeted at assisting individuals, businesses and co-ops working at the
earliest stages to bring broadband to their communities. Eligible entities
include nonprofits, academic institutions, local governments and commercial
companies that work to identify broadband access needs in unserved areas of
the country. Projects to be funded through this new program will include
feasibility studies, mapping, economic analysis, and other activities done
to determine the reasons for the current lack of service, and the scale,
scope, and type of broadband services most suitable for the particular
unserved area. 

Reforms USDA Rural Broadband Program: the current USDA broadband loan
program provides below-market rate loans and loan guarantees for the
construction and improvement of broadband facilities and equipment in rural
areas. This program expires in 2007. Durbin's bill does three things with
regard to the broadband loan program -- extends the life of the program for
another five years until 2012; refocuses the program solely on rural areas
where it is most needed; and establishes a grant program to be administered
by the same USDA office that currently runs the rural broadband loan

Wireless Broadband Spectrum: requires the Federal Communications Commission
(FCC) to make new spectrum available for wireless broadband services in
rural areas as soon as practicable. The bill also requires the FCC to
evaluate its spectrum auction plans and to divide some of the frequency
allocations into smaller area licenses so that regional and rural wireless
companies can compete in the bidding process. Making additional spectrum
available holds tremendous potential for wireless broadband to be deployed
in rural areas, especially in large geographic regions where it would be
cost prohibitive to build out wires and cable. 

Creates Broadband Task Force: establishes a task force consisting of experts
in federal, state, and local governments, trade associations, public
interest organizations, academic institutions, and other areas to study best
practices for rapid deployment of broadband services in states, particularly
those with large unserved rural areas. The bill requires the task force,
within 6 months, to provide to Congress and to each governor a report
detailing a comprehensive list of specific measures adopted by state or
local governments that helped deploy broadband services in areas that lacked
such services. 

The legislation has been referred to the Senate Commerce, Science and
Transportation Committee.                        

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