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

(Washington, DC) –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, the Small Business Broadband and Emerging Information Technology Enhancement Act, 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. U.S. Senators Hirono (D-HI), Risch (R-ID) and Markey (D-MA) are also original co-sponsors of the bill.

“Small businesses are engines of economic growth and the heart of communities across New Hampshire, they need tools to boost their resilience moving forward. Reliable broadband is key to their success, particularly in rural parts of our state and country,” 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.”

“Louisiana depends on broadband more each day,” said Senator Kennedy. “I’m proud to partner with Sen. Shaheen to expand access to broadband and other technological resources for small businesses so that they can continue to support the jobs our economy depends on.”

"Broadband is essential in connecting communities to all the economic opportunity of the 21st-century digital landscape," said Senator Markey. "The Small Business Administration is uniquely poised to empower small businesses by providing the support needed to access broadband and plug into the global economy.”

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 increasingly  adopted virtual operations.

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 year, 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 year, Shaheen joined her colleagues in encouraging the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to quickly implement the bipartisan infrastructure law.