(The Center Square) – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, praised a recent announcement by the National Telecommunications Information Administration that aims to improve rural broadband access in Oregon.
Oregon got $689 million from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law’s BEAD program so it can expand broadband internet to rural communities. It is the largest single broadband grant in Oregon’s history.
Previously, the NTIA, which administers the program, required broadband providers to provide an irrevocable letter of credit, to participate in the BEAD program. However, Wyden told the administration that this rule excluded many small ISPs, including nonprofit and municipal ones.
“Today’s announcement out of NTIA is great news for communities across Oregon, who will be better able to access critical federal funding to boost broadband access in rural and underserved areas of our state,” Wyden said in a press release. “Once again, Assistant Secretary Alan Davidson listened to Oregonians and took steps to address their needs, so my constituents can get a fair shake. I’ll be counting on this partnership to continue until every Oregonian has access to reliable, affordable, high-quality broadband.”
NTIA’s announcement will let more ISPs qualify for the BEAD program. It will also allow for the use of performance bonds, as an alternative to the letter of credit.
“We thank Senator Wyden and NTIA for their tireless efforts to ensure our smaller and medium-sized ISPs are able to fully participate in the BEAD program to bring access to all Oregonians currently lacking high-speed, reliable broadband internet” Oregon Broadband Office Director Nick Batz said.
Brant Wolf, executive vice president of the Oregon Telecommunications Association, added that broadband expansion will allow rural America to participate in the 21st-century economy.
“Obtaining an irrevocable letter of credit posed challenges perhaps unique to our small, rural broadband providers operating throughout Oregon,” Wolf said in the release. “The relief granted by NTIA will go a long way toward ensuring BEAD program funding is used in the highest, best manner in rural and frontier areas of Oregon! Access to the internet using fiber will provide these rural areas and communities with the highest speed possible, ensuring their place and participation in the 21st-century economy.”
Although the federal government has spent billions hoping to improve high-speed internet access, millions still lack it.
Over 100 programs managed by 15 different agencies spent a combined $44 billion to improve broadband access between 2015 and 2020, according to the Government Accountability Office. However, over 8.3 million American homes and businesses still lack high-speed internet access, according to the Federal Communications Commission. The different agencies don’t agree on what counts as “broadband access” so even after some are hooked up to the Internet, some agencies still consider them underserved.