Bipartisan infrastructure bill includes funding for roads, bridges, broadband

Small Towns

By Nathan Beacom, former staff member.

On Aug. 24, the U.S. House of Representatives moved forward the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act, which includes investments in roads, bridges, other major public infrastructure projects, and broadband. 

The bill’s $110 million in infrastructure projects includes the single largest investment in bridges since the beginning of the interstate highway system. These traditional infrastructure projects are important to rural communities, insofar as many of the country’s deteriorating roads and bridges are found in rural areas. Other uses of the funds include investments in water systems to ensure clean drinking water, public transportation, freight and passenger rail, and environmental quality projects.

One of the most significant funding allotments in the bill, however, is in the realm of digital infrastructure. Some 30 million Americans, mostly rural, are still without the infrastructure for minimum internet access speeds. In Nebraska, for example, 26% of residents do not have adequate access to high speed internet, which is becoming increasingly essential for everything from healthcare to education to work. This Bipartisan Infrastructure and Jobs Act, dedicates $65 billion to addressing the issue, and attempting to make high speed internet access available to all Americans.

Under the bill, $40 billion in broadband access funding will go to state governments, who will work with local communities to improve access where needed. Internet providers receiving these funds will be required to provide low-cost access options and to make public the speed and reliability of the various tiers they sell. 

The bill also includes $14 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit, which provides $30 a month in assistance for  qualifying households. Also included is $2.75 billion toward the Digital Equity Act, which will assist states in developing plans to aid disadvantaged communities in accessing high speed internet, and grant money for local governments, nonprofits, and companies for projects to expand access to those in underserved communities. The USDA’s ReConnect program, an existing program that offers grants and loans specifically for rural broadband development projects, will receive $2 billion. 

This funding, if passed, will be a crucial investment in bringing rural communities in the midwest, and the rest of the nation, up to speed. A final vote on this bill isn’t likely to take place until later in the fall, but the influx of federal funding could make a significant difference for our communities, and the Center will continue to monitor developments on the availability of this funding.