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Shaheen Leads Bipartisan Effort to Prioritize Broadband Access for Small Businesses

(Washington, DC)—U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), a senior member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, announced today that she’s reintroduced bipartisan legislation with U.S. Senators Kennedy (R-LA), Ernst (R-IA), Hirono (D-HI), Risch (R-ID) and Markey (D-MA) that would improve programs operated by the Small Business Administration (SBA) to address problems associated with a 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 amid the COVID-19 pandemic, as businesses and workers continue working remotely.

“The economic fallout from COVID-19 has exposed and exacerbated existing problems that for too long have hurt small businesses, particularly those in rural areas where access to broadband is limited. This bill will improve SBA programs to help them meet these challenges,” said Shaheen. “This is a common-sense, bipartisan bill that will prioritize broadband access at the federal level. I urge members on both sides of the aisle to join us in this effort.”

“Between a pandemic and historic hurricane, small businesses in Louisiana are facing incredible challenges,” said Kennedy. “Helping them deploy broadband and put new technology to use is a smart way to protect jobs. Small businesses represent 97% of Louisiana employers, I’m glad to help introduce a bill that serves these job creators.”

“Throughout my 99 County Tour, I’ve spoken with Iowa small business owners about the need for increased access to reliable broadband, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ernst. “This bipartisan bill builds on my work to close the digital divide for Iowa communities and will help ensure the federal government is supporting our small businesses in this effort.”

“COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges for Hawaii small businesses and entrepreneurs, and we should do everything we can to support them during this economically challenging time,” said Hirono. “Congress has an opportunity with this bipartisan legislation to improve broadband access for small businesses and entrepreneurs so they can remain competitive in this climate—whether that means expanding their online presence to reach customers, receiving technical assistance, or leveraging emerging technologies.”

“Access to broadband is critical for starting and growing a business, yet communities throughout rural Idaho lack this necessary resource,” said Risch. “This legislation will modernize the SBA’s approach to broadband issues while connecting small businesses in underserved rural areas with programs to bridge the technological divide.”

“Now more than ever, broadband is essential to ensuring that America’s small businesses can compete on a level playing field in the global economy,” said Markey. “SBA’s resources must include the opportunity for all small businesses to access to this critical utility, and this legislation puts us on a path to making that a reality.”

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

  • 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, helped negotiate the small business relief programs that were established in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that was signed into law in March. Over $2.5 billion in assistance has been disbursed to more than 24,000 businesses across New Hampshire through the CARES Act’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). However, many small businesses continue to struggle. Shaheen is continuing to call for the passage of the Prioritized Paycheck Protection Program (P4) Act, legislation she introduced that would allow these small businesses to access a second round of PPP loans. Earlier this month, Shaheen hosted a virtual meeting with members of the Greater Salem and Greater Derry-Londonderry Chambers of Commerce and provided an update on her efforts to secure additional relief for Granite State families and businesses in upcoming COVID-19 response legislation