Golden, Stauber Lead Bipartisan Bill to Connect Rural Small Businesses with ‘Last Mile’ of Broadband Infrastructure
LEWISTON — Congressman Jared Golden (ME-02) and Congressman Pete Stauber (MN-08), the Chair and Ranking Member of the House Small Business Subcommittee on Subcontracting and Infrastructure, introduced the bipartisan Small Business Last Mile Act today. The bill would improve high speed internet access for small businesses in rural areas by helping small businesses build the ‘last mile’ of broadband infrastructure.
The last mile, or the distance between existing broadband infrastructure, often located along a major roadway, and a business or residence that is hundreds or thousands of feet away, is one of the biggest costs many rural small businesses face when trying to access broadband.
“At the rural broadband field hearing Congressman Stauber and I brought to Washington County last year, the message was clear: Congress is not doing enough to help small businesses access broadband in rural America,” said Congressman Golden. “The legislation we’re introducing today would provide grants of up to $35,000 to help rural small businesses connect over that ‘last mile’ to existing broadband infrastructure. Solving the last mile problem will help American small businesses compete and continue to offer good jobs in rural areas.”
“Throughout the years, we have seen broadband connect businesses with new markets and new customers, something that is incredibly important for small businesses located in less populated, rural areas,” said Congressman Stauber. “Unfortunately, too many rural small businesses still remain on the wrong side of the digital divide, leaving them and the surrounding communities without the tools they need to grow and prosper. As American families and businesses continue to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, access to quick and reliable Internet has become more important than ever, so I am proud to introduce bipartisan legislation that will help deploy broadband services to businesses located in rural areas.”
The Small Business Last Mile Act would provide competitive grants to help small businesses connect to existing broadband infrastructure. Golden and Stauber’s bill offers grants of up to $15,000 for single businesses or $35,000 for several businesses to connect to broadband infrastructure.
The bill would build on Maine voters’ strong support for a June bond referendum to fund state- and locally-led projects through the ConnectME Authority, by directing the Small Business Administration to route broadband grant funding through state broadband agencies like ConnectME. This approach takes advantage of states’ local knowledge of broadband access gaps, as well as their existing technical expertise with administering broadband infrastructure grants.
Organizations advocating for small businesses and rural communities in Maine endorsed Golden and Stauber’s legislation:
“We are thrilled to see the introduction of Congressman Golden’s Small Business Last Mile Act, which would create a grant program for rural small businesses, like farms, to help offset the costs of bringing high-speed internet infrastructure the ‘last mile’ to their location. The lack of access to reliable, high-speed Internet service in Maine remains a challenge for many farmers across the state, preventing them from growing and diversifying their businesses, especially now with the coronavirus pandemic. This bill is an important step towards addressing that challenge and helping farmers grow their operations and access new markets.” - Bill Toomey, President and CEO, Maine Farmland Trust
“Most small businesses know they need high-speed broadband to reach their full potential, so broadband access is a must when they look to expand in Maine, relocate to our state, and for tele-working options. That is often challenging in rural parts of Maine, as many Realtors here can attest. Congressman Golden’s Small Business Last Mile Act will help make broadband access realistic for more small businesses in rural Maine, which is great news for our economy and for commercial and home-based business property values.” - Tom Cole, 2020 President, Maine Association of REALTORS®
“As businesses and local chambers of commerce have adapted to COVID-19, the importance of high-speed broadband access for employers has become even more apparent. From telework, to telehealth, to reaching new customers, broadband investments will make Maine a more competitive place to do business and create new jobs. So the Chamber thanks Congressman Golden for this legislation to bring more resources to bear on this key infrastructure need and help bring broadband to more rural small businesses in our state.” - Dana Connors, President, Maine State Chamber of Commerce.
Golden has consistently prioritized broadband access in Congress and is a member of the House Task Force on Rural Broadband. Last September, he and Stauber held a field-hearing in Machias to discuss rural broadband access with Mainers. Most recently, he worked with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (ME-01) to push Congress for funding to support Maine students without broadband at home.
The bill is supported by Machias-based Axiom Technologies, the ConnectME Authority, the Maine Association of Realtors, the Maine Farmland Trust, the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the Maine State Chamber of Commerce, and the Main Street Alliance.
You can read a summary of the legislation here.