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Shaheen, Kennedy Lead Bipartisan Effort to Prioritize Broadband Access for Small Businesses

(Washington, DC) – Today, U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, and John Kennedy (R-LA), reintroduced legislation that would improve programs operated by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to address problems around the lack of broadband internet and other emerging information technology resources, and better assist small businesses in accessing and successfully adopting these tools. Access to broadband services in rural areas throughout New Hampshire and the country has become a top concern since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as businesses and workers were forced to adopt virtual operations.

U.S. Senators Ernst (R-IA), Hirono (D-HI), Risch (R-ID) and Markey (D-MA) are also original sponsors of the bill.

“Small businesses are engines of economic growth and the heart of communities across New Hampshire. That’s why it’s been heartbreaking to see so many small business owners teeter on the edge of bankruptcy throughout the pandemic. As we begin to put the pandemic behind us and businesses resume their operations, they need tools to boost their resilience moving forward. Reliable broadband is key to their success,” said Senator Shaheen. “I’m reintroducing this bipartisan bill to improve SBA programs that expand access to broadband services, particularly in underserved and rural areas. This would build on the historic investments I helped secure as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law that will close the digital divide and improve the success of small businesses and families alike. I urge the Senate to act quickly on this commonsense bill to help small businesses evolve and overcome challenges exacerbated by the pandemic.”

“Small businesses represent 97% of Louisiana employers, and they need broadband to create and sustain more jobs—especially after our state suffered through a series of natural disasters over the last year-and-a-half,” said Senator Kennedy. “This bill would help expand access to broadband and other crucial technological resources for job creators in our state.”

“Access to reliable broadband is critical to helping Iowa’s small businesses succeed and serve their communities, which is why we’ve continued to work across the aisle to close the digital divide. This bipartisan effort will help ensure the federal government is supporting our small businesses in this effort, particularly in our rural areas,” said Senator Ernst

“Access to broadband is essential to small business owners, allowing them to connect with customers, promote their businesses, and leverage emerging technologies,” said Senator Hirono. “In Hawaii, where 99 percent of all businesses are small businesses, rural and historically underserved communities – including many Native Hawaiian communities – face inequitable broadband access, making it harder for them to start and operate new businesses. This bipartisan legislation will help end these disparities and strengthen our economy by enhancing the Small Business Administration’s ability to provide small businesses the resources and support they need to utilize broadband and remain competitive.”

“In the 21st century, broadband isn’t a luxury for small businesses – it is a necessity,” said Senator Risch. “This legislation will ensure that small businesses in rural Idaho have the technology they need to grow and succeed.”

“Small businesses have been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic, but they continue to be beating heart of our communities. For small businesses to thrive and better serve their customers, they need to be able to connect with them,” said Senator Markey. “Access to stable broadband and emerging information technology resources is necessary to compete.  This legislation would secure this access and ensure that small businesses can successfully operate on a level playing field.”

Specifically, the Small Business Broadband and Emerging Information Technology Enhancement Act would make the following improvements to the SBA’s approach to broadband by:

  • Directing the SBA Office of Investment and Innovation to designate a senior employee to serve as the broadband and emerging information technology (BEIT) coordinator;
  • Providing SBA employees BEIT training to assist small businesses in the use of such technologies;
  • Reporting on a biennial basis regarding the programs and activities of the SBA relating to broadband and other emerging information technologies;
  • Requiring the SBA Chief Counsel for Advocacy to evaluate the impact of broadband speed and price on small businesses; and
  • Making services such as assistance in accessing and using BEIT an authorized activity of small business development centers (SBDCs).

Bill text is available here.

Senator Shaheen, a senior member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, worked to provide small businesses with the resources they need to weather and recover from the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As a lead negotiator of the historic bipartisan infrastructure deal, Shaheen led bipartisan broadband negotiations with Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) and successfully secured $65 billion to support broadband affordability and deployment across the nation. The package also builds on the Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) Program by investing $14.2 billion to help working and low-income families access affordable high-speed internet. Last month, as chair of the Senate Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies (CJS) Appropriations subcommittee, Shaheen welcomed Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo to testify on the broadband provisions included in the bipartisan infrastructure law, and to address other priorities related to the Department of Commerce’s jurisdiction. During the hearing, Shaheen questioned Secretary Raimondo about anticipated timing for the rollout of Federal Communications Commission (FCC) maps that will determine how much funding states are allocated for broadband investments. Last month, Shaheen joined her colleagues in encouraging the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to quickly implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.