$1 trillion infrastructure deal heads to House, Hawaii expected to receive $2.8 billion if passed


An estimated $2.8 billion of a $1 trillion infrastructure deal passed by the Senate on Tuesday might be headed to Hawaii sooner than later.

The Senate gave approval to the $1 trillion infrastructure plan that will fund the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act after weeks of back and forth talks, paving way to some much needed assistance for Hawaii’s roads.

The deal would give states money to repair roads and bridges, make roads more resilient to climate change, improve public transportation options for residents and strengthen high-speed internet access.

“Billions of federal dollars for Hawaii are in this bill to help us fix up our roads and bridges, and create thousands of new jobs across the state,” said Senator Schatz, who voted on the bill. “This massive investment will make it safer and easier for Hawai‘i families to get around, while helping grow our local economy.”

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Included in the plan is legislation, authored by Senator Schatz, that aims to improve road safety standards and make streets safer for pedestrians and cyclists.

Key provisions in the infrastructure deal for Hawaii include:

Roads, bridges, and major projects – at least $1.5 billion

At least $1.2 billion in estimated funding will be used to repair and rebuild roads with a focus on climate change mitigation, resilience and safety for all road users.
At least $339 million from the Bridge Program will work to repair and replace deficient or outdated bridges.
Hawaii will have access to nearly $16 billion in nationwide funding for major projects.
Access to $7.5 billion for competitive RAISE grants will support surface transportation projects of local and/or regional significance.

Public transit – at least $637.4 million

Funding will be used to help repair and expand Hawai‘i’s public transit system, including a historic investment in cleaner and safer buses.

Airports – at least $246 million

Funding will be used to improve runways, gates, taxiways and terminals and make investments that will reduce congestion and emissions, and drive electrification and other low-carbon technologies.
Access to $5 billion in nationwide funding from the Airport Terminal Program for major terminal renovations and expansions.

Broadband – at least $160 million

At least $100 million in funding will be used to help the state deploy and expand broadband access to more Hawaii families
The Department of Hawaiian Homelands is set to receive at least $60 million to provide high-speed internet access to Native Hawaiian families.
At least 280,000 Hawaii residents will be eligible for a new broadband benefit aimed at helping low-income families afford high-speed internet access.
Funding will also support the construction of new broadband infrastructure, including undersea cables.

Water infrastructure – at least $200.4 million

A total of $88 million from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund to improve drinking water treatment, pipes and water storage tanks.
An additional $112.4 million from the Clean Water State Revolving Fund to help support municipal wastewater facilities and treatment systems.
Access to $10 billion to address Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Access to $250 million in grants for low-income households for the construction, repair or replacement of individual decentralized wastewater treatment systems

Electric vehicles – at least $18 million

Funding to build electric vehicle charging infrastructure in Hawaii to enable long-distance travel and to provide convenient charging where people live and work.
Access to an additional $2.5 billion in nationwide grant funding dedicated to EV and alternative fuels charging infrastructure.
Access to $5 billion to replace existing school buses with zero emission and clean school buses, with a priority on low income, rural and tribal schools.

Clean energy and grid – at least $3 million

Funding includes at least $3 million from the Department of Energy’s State Energy Program to pursue state-led initiatives that accelerate our clean energy transition.
Access to $3 billion in matching grants for smart grid investments, including energy storage.
Access to $500 million in competitive grants to make energy efficiency, renewable energy and vehicle upgrades at public schools.
Access to an additional $550 million in nationwide funding for the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program.

Resiliency – $11 billion (nationwide)

Hawaii has access to nearly $1.3 billion in nationwide funding for coastal habitat restoration to increase resilience.
Access to $1 billion for resilience infrastructure through the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) grant program.
Access to $8 billion from the new Promoting Resilient Operations for Transformative, Efficient and Cost-saving Transportation (PROTECT) program, which provides formula and competitive funding for resilience improvement grants, community resilience and evacuation route grants and at-risk coastal infrastructure grants.

Street safety – $5 billion (nationwide)

Funds a new program to help state and local governments implement “vision zero” plans and other improvements to reduce crashes and fatalities, especially for cyclists and pedestrians.

Flood mitigation – $7 billion (nationwide)

Access to $7 billion in nationwide funding to support flood control projects that protect vulnerable communities from sea level rise and extreme weather.

Ports and waterways – $16.6 billion (nationwide)

Access to new funding for waterway and coastal infrastructure, inland waterway improvements, and port infrastructure.

Addressing Legacy Pollution – $21 billion (nationwide)

Access to $1.5 billion in nationwide funding for brownfields remediation.
Access to $3.5 billion for Superfund cleanup.

The bill now heads to the U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

Senate infrastructure bill sets stage for massive effort to make broadband more available and affordable

Washington Post
By Tony Romm and Cat Zakrzewski

Senate Democrats and Republicans are inching closer to adopting more than $14 billion to help Americans who are struggling to pay for high-speed Internet, part of a package of digital initiatives that together amount to the largest one-time investment in broadband in U.S. history.

The debate has played out in the context of a roughly $1 trillion infrastructure proposal that the Senate began debating earlier this week. The bipartisan measure sets aside $65 billion total to expand Internet access, a pot of money meant to build out connectivity to unserved parts of the country while helping low-income families afford their bills.

‘It shouldn’t take a pandemic’: Coronavirus exposes Internet inequality among U.S. students as schools close their doors

The affordability program, in particular, marks an expansion of the U.S. government’s existing efforts to help Americans who cannot afford reliable, speedy Web connectivity. Only after years of neglect — and a pandemic that forced Americans nationwide to conduct their lives primarily through the Web — did Congress in December pass a plan to help families pay for the costs of speedy service.

The infrastructure proposal extends that assistance, and potentially expands the number of Americans who are eligible for it, ahead of what would have been its expiration in a few months once its coffers ran dry. If adopted, the new measure would enable eligible Americans to take advantage of a discount of up to $30 per month, less than the $50 that participants receive today.

Democrats and Republicans have hailed the new spending as a critical component of their broader effort to invest in the country’s roads, bridges, pipes, ports and other aging infrastructure. Both sides have expressed unease with some of the package’s component parts — with Democrats seeking more aid and Republicans fearing the prospect of government overreach — yet they largely found consensus for now on the new broadband assistance.

“It is time for us to bridge America’s digital divide and build a 21st-century broadband infrastructure that will meet our country’s needs not only today, but for years to come to be future-proof,” Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), one of the chief negotiators of the deal, said in a floor speech touting the work this week.

The Senate debate comes on the heels of huge investments in Internet access totaling more than $25 billion that lawmakers have authorized over the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Over multiple relief packages, lawmakers have tried to help more Americans get online, boost telehealth programs, and assist teachers and students inside and outside the classroom — injections of funding that could have lasting effects on the country’s Internet connectivity.

Passage of the infrastructure bill would add another $65 billion to efforts to close the so-called digital divide, the persistent gap between those who have access to high-speed Internet and those who do not. The White House estimates that about 30 million Americans live in areas where there is no broadband infrastructure to provide minimally acceptable speeds.

But the money still may fall short of President Biden’s ambitious goal of ensuring every American has access to high-speed Internet, because some Democrats initially said about $100 billion might be needed to address the country’s digital infrastructure. Even as they praise the contours of the new legislation, the shortfall left some public interest groups warning this week that their work is far from finished.

“On the whole, this bill is going to help connect a whole lot of people,” said Jenna Leventoff, senior policy counsel at Public Knowledge, a consumer advocacy group. “But there’s still a lot of work to do to make sure that we can fully close the digital divide.”

On Capitol Hill, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) described the broadband provisions as his “least favorite section” of the bill. Asked whether it did enough to address the costs of Internet service, he said this week, “I’m going to vote yes, but we’re going to have a few more bites at the apple as it relates to broadband policy.”

The plan’s centerpiece is a nearly $42.5 billion program that would provide money to states to ensure that broadband is deployed to rural areas and other regions of the country with inadequate service. Companies that receive funding under the legislation to build out networks would be required to offer low-cost plans to families who otherwise cannot afford Internet service.

Bipartisan group of senators introduces $40 billion bill to close the digital divide

Companies including AT&T, Comcast and Verizon already advertise low-cost options for families who qualify, but not every carrier does, so the legislation opens the door potentially for new Internet providers to offer service at discounted rates, according to lawmakers. The prices of those plans would be determined by each state.

The bill also aims to dedicate $14 billion to extending the emergency broadband subsidies that lawmakers authorized as part of the most recent coronavirus aid package adopted in December. That program since the spring has provided subsidies of up to $50 per month toward the Internet bills for more than 4 million eligible households, with the aid paid directly to providers. Under the new infrastructure legislation, however, the amount is set to be reduced to $30 per month.

The government wants to pay your Internet bill for a few months. Here’s what you need to do.

Lawmakers reduced the amount of the rebate as they sought to keep the total infrastructure bill under the approximately $1 trillion price tag that its 10 Democratic and Republican authors first announced in June. The decrease in benefit amount so far has received a mixed reception among experts: The new funding prevents the program from expiring, but it may leave some participating families no choice but to accept cheaper, lesser Internet service in the future if they can’t afford to pay the difference in their bills.

“I think it’s the worst thing in politics when you take something away from people rather than giving them something,” said Jonathan Schwantes, a senior policy counsel for Consumers Reports. “The reduction will sting some families.”

But Schwantes added it was positive that lawmakers were extending the program and addressing some of its shortcomings after it initially began as a temporary, emergency initiative. “It’s a positive step forward that I don’t know 18 months ago that I would have imagined,” he said.

The extension of broadband subsidies was one of the more contentious points in negotiations over the bill, delaying lawmakers from finalizing their plan for days. As part of the debate, Democrats wanted to ensure that telecom carriers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon could not raise their monthly rates at a time when the U.S. government subsidized some Americans’ service. Party lawmakers put forward proposals during the talks to try to limit such increases, according to two aides familiar with the matter. They spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private deliberations.

But Republicans rejected some of the proposals, which they perceived as price caps, viewing them as a back door to allowing the federal government to regulate Internet rates much in the same way that utility commissions oversee how much power and water providers charge for services. Telecom giants including the NCTA-the Internet & Television Association, which represents the industry’s biggest firms, had urged the GOP to fight the provisions, the two aides said.

NCTA spokesman Brian Dietz declined to comment on the association’s lobbying efforts, but said in a statement that the association was “encouraged” that the package provides financial assistance “to help low-income Americans subscribe to this critical service.”

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), one of the bill’s supporters, said the latest version is a “compromise.”

“The package certainly didn’t do everything I would have wanted, but in combination with President Biden’s executive order, it’s a good start,” he said in a statement. The president recently signed an executive order that took aim at industries in which certain companies dominate the market, including broadband providers.

The legislation directs the Federal Communications Commission to craft rules to ensure Internet companies aren’t abusing the program, such as by pushing consumers to sign up for more costly tiers of service. That push follows a Washington Post report that Verizon was telling customers that “old” plans weren’t eligible for the subsidy and pressuring them to sign up for more expensive plans. The company reversed course and began accepting the subsidy for old plans after The Post’s report.

Lawmakers also included a requirement that the FCC embark on an effort to require Internet providers to offer easy-to-understand labels about their rates and how they change after introductory offers to address long-running concerns that Americans’ cable and Internet rates too often differ or appear to increase from what’s advertised. These labels, which have been compared to the nutrition labels on food packaging, have long been a priority for Democrats and were recently promoted in an executive order signed by Biden earlier this summer.

“It’s encouraging to see some provisions around pricing transparency to simply help consumers understand what they’re paying for,” Joshua Stager, the deputy director of broadband and competition policy at New America’s Open Technology Institute, said in an interview.

How Internet and TV providers get away with jacking up your bill

The legislation further allocates more than $2.7 billion toward “digital equity” initiatives, which seek to ensure that people not only have access to the Internet, but have the skills and training to use it to complete daily tasks. And the Senate bill tasks the FCC with taking steps to prevent practices known as “digital redlining,” ensuring that service providers don’t discriminate in their decisions about where they deploy networks on the basis of race or an area’s income level.

Consumer advocates, meanwhile, have warned that the package does not go far enough to address long-running competition concerns. An earlier bipartisan broadband bill would have overturned state laws that make it illegal to build municipal networks, which advocates say result in greater competition and lower prices for consumers. But that language was not included in the latest version of the infrastructure plan.

The omission was one of the “most disappointing” in the legislation, said Andrew Jay Schwartzman, senior counselor at the Benton Institute, which advocates for expanded Internet access. He also lamented that the minimum Internet speed requirements for the networks were slower than what Democrats initially proposed. They wanted download and upload speeds of 100 megabits per second, but the bill only requires upload speeds of 20 mbps, which experts have warned are not speedy enough for households increasingly reliant on video conferencing.

Despite these shortcomings, advocates said they were largely pleased with the deal.

“There will have to be more in the future,” said Gigi Sohn, senior fellow and public advocate at the Benton Institute. “It’s not the end point, but it’s a really strong beginning.”

State Legislature Takes Significant Steps To Improve Broadband Service In State

Hawaii Public Radio

Nearly 3,000 bills were proposed this past legislative session. But only a few hundred were passed by both the House and Senate last week. Among those that were approved, are measures that could improve the state’s broadband infrastructure.

The 2021 legislative session adjourned last week, ending a four-month period when state lawmakres considered thousands of proposals to address new and ongoing challenges in the islands. Some of the larger topics legislators had to contend with were the state budget in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, education, and economic recovery efforts.

But there were a couple of items that were approved, that could have a great impact on everyday life in the islands.

One is House Bill 1191, which could help improve internet service in the state.

It establishes the broadband and digital equity office at the department of business, economic development and tourism. This new office would be in charge of developing and implementing strategies to improve broadband service in the state — especially in rural areas that have limited or no internet connection.

The office would also oversee broadband infrastructure in schools throughout the state.

The measure also establishes a grant program to incentivize the private sector to develop the necessary infrastructure in underserved or unserved areas.

“That was quite significant,” said state broadband strategy officer, and host of HPR’s Bytemarks Cafe, Burt Lum.

“I think it’s a recognition by the legislature that it’s important to have a central clearinghouse for all things broadband and digital equity.”

Another big step the legisltaure took is approving a line item in the state budget. It allocates $10 million, in mostly federal funds, to begin work on developing facilities to house transpacific fiber optic cables.

The state depends on these underwater cables to provide internet service. But the challenge is that it takes a lot of investment to build the facilities for them to land here.

Lum says although there is still a lot of capacity on the current cables, it’s always good to have more.

“With all the new technologies that leverage digital technologies — all the applications, all the big data, all the AI machine learning — that’s going to all need more data,” he said.

“What we need to build is, not only the ability to lower the barrier to allow transpacific fiber optic cable landings here, we also need to look at how do we build diverse routes and create rings that allow redundancy and resilience.”

Lum says creating facilities to host transpacific fiber optic cables are one part of improving the state’s broadband infrastructure. He says improving internet service in the islands are just as important.

“When you are looking at building brandband infrastructure, and you want to connect the islands, it’s not just to connect the islands. It’s to continue to close the gap between rural communitites and communities of need. And we look at the interest of things like distance learning, telework, telehealth, you need to have broadband connection.”

Both the state budget and HB 1191 were passed by the state House and Senate, and are being considered by Governor David Ige for final approval.

Wyden, Colleagues Introduce Legislation to Expand Access to Affordable High-Speed Internet

Costal Curry Pilot

Oregon’s U.S. Senator Ron Wyden recently introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation that would expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans. –

“In my town halls across Oregon, I’ve seen first-hand how reliable broadband can lift up rural towns. And I’ve seen how rural and lower-income communities without first-class infrastructure are being left behind,” Wyden said. “Senator Klobuchar and Congressman Clyburn’s legislation is a strong package that would ensure all Americans can depend on broadband for critical access to work, education, healthcare and everything else. I’m also pleased they included an additional $6 billion for the Emergency Broadband Benefit I helped craft, to keep working Americans online.”

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act will invest over $94 billion to build high-speed broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved communities to close the digital divide and ensure Americans have internet connectivity to learn and work from home, access telehealth services, and stay connected to loved ones.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act was introduced by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, D-S.C. Along with Wyden, the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is cosponsored by Senators Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Ed Markey, D-Mass., Jacky Rosen, D-N.V., Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Mark Warner, D-Va., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev. In the House, Majority Whip Clyburn was joined by members of the House Rural Broadband Task Force.

The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act is endorsed by Public Knowledge, Free Press, National Consumer Law Center, New America Foundation’s Open Technology Institute, Consumer Reports, the Schools, Health, Libraries, and Broadband Coalition (SHLB), Common Cause, Benton Institute for Broadband and Society, Leadership Conference, Access Now, Electronic Frontier Foundation, National Digital Inclusion Alliance, National Education Association, National Defense Industrial Association, Communications Workers of America, and North America’s Building Trades Union.

“This pandemic has made clear that broadband is no longer nice-to-have, it’s need-to-have for everyone, everywhere,” said Jessica Rosenworcel, Acting FCC Chairwoman. “Kudos to the Rural Broadband Task Force for recognizing this fundamental truth and developing a plan to connect us all. Working together we can solve the digital divide and give everyone a fair shot at internet age success.”

“The nation’s libraries – 117,000 strong – have long been an essential strand in our country’s digital safety net,” said Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., President of the American Library Association. “Every day libraries see the repercussions of a persistent digital divide and provide millions of Americans not only access to the internet, but also help develop the skills to navigate increasingly sophisticated online services and resources. The Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act tackles all sides of the digital divide: access, affordability, and adoption, and digital skills. The American Library Association looks forward to working with Rep. Clyburn and the Rural Broadband Task Force to move forward the Accessible, Affordable Internet for All Act.”

Hawaiian Telcom receives FCC grant to expand high-speed internet coverage

West Hawaii Today

Hawaiian Telcom received a $24 million grant from the Federal Communications Commission to expand high-speed internet coverage throughout rural areas in the state.

Through the FCC’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund, Hawaiian Telcom intends to expand its high-speed internet services to more than 8,000 locations in the state by the end of 2027, including several places on the Big Island.

Hawaiian Telcom spokeswoman Ann Nishida Fry said the company is targeting sites all around the Big Island, including many communities in Puna and along the Hamakua Coast. The telecommunications company will reach out to customers when their locations are brought online.

The RDOF is a $20 billion project launched by the FCC last year to connect underserved areas with broadband internet.

A statement from Hawaiian Telcom indicates that it will provide rural areas access to 1 gigabit download speeds, which is 100 times faster than the average U.S. internet speeds, with 500 megabit upload speeds.

Fry added that the RDOF grant will not cover all of Hawaiian Telcom’s expansion costs, and the provider will be investing millions of its own funds as well.

The RDOF expansion is also separate from the Connect America Fund, a separate FCC project similarly expanding broadband services throughout the country. Fry said Hawaiian Telcom is midway through a six-year CAF project to enable service to more than 5,000 locations on the Big Island.

5 ways the Biden administration can bridge the divide between rural and urban America

Business Insider
by Ann Eisenberg, Jessica A. Shoemaker, and Lisa R. Pruitt , The Conversation

It’s no secret that rural and urban people have grown apart culturally and economically in recent years. A quick glance at the media — especially social media — confirms an ideological gap has also widened.

City folks have long been detached from rural conditions. Even in the 1700s, urbanites labeled rural people as backward or different. And lately, urban views of rural people have deteriorated.

All three of us are law professors who study and advocate intervention to assist distressed rural communities. The response we often hear is, “You expect me to care about those far-off places, especially given the way the people there vote?”

Our answer is “yes.”

Rural communities provide much of the food and energy that fuel our lives. They are made up of people who, after decades of exploitative resource extraction and neglect, need strong connective infrastructure and opportunities to pursue regional prosperity. A lack of investment in broadband, schools, jobs, sustainable farms, hospitals, roads, and even the US Postal Service has increasingly driven rural voters to seek change from national politics. And this sharp hunger for change gave Trump’s promises to disrupt the status quo particular appeal in rural areas.

Metropolitan stakeholders often complain that the Electoral College and US Senate give less populous states disproportionate power nationally. Yet that power has not steered enough resources, infrastructure investment, and jobs to rural America for communities to survive and thrive.

So, how can the federal government help?

Based on our years of research into rural issues, here are five federal initiatives that would go a long way toward empowering distressed rural communities to improve their destinies, while also helping bridge the urban/rural divide.

1. Get high-speed internet to the rest of rural America
The COVID-19 era has made more acute something rural communities were already familiar with: High-speed internet is the gateway to everything. Education, work, health care, information access, and even a social life depend directly on broadband.

Yet 22.3% of rural residents and 27.7% of tribal lands residents lacked access to high-speed internet as of 2018, compared with 1.5% of urban residents.

The Trump administration undermined progress on the digital divide in 2018 by reversing an Obama-era rule that categorized broadband as a public utility, like electricity. When broadband was regulated as a utility, the government could ensure fairer access even in regions that were less profitable for service providers. The reversal left rural communities more vulnerable to the whims of competitive markets.

Although President Joe Biden has signaled support for rural broadband expansion, it’s not yet clear what the Federal Communications Commission might do under his leadership. Recategorizing broadband as a public utility could help close the digital divide.

STAKEHOLDER ANNOUNCEMENT – USDA Seeks Applications for Loans and Grants to Support Rural Microenterprises

USDA Rural Development

United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand today invited applications for loan and grants to support rural microenterprises.

The funding is being provided through USDA’s Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program (RMAP).

RMAP provides loans and grants to a non-profit entity, tribe or institution of higher education as a Microenterprise Development Organization (MDO) to establish revolving loan funds to provide loans to rural microloan borrowers and micro entrepreneurs, or to provide training and technical assistance to micro entrepreneurs. To be eligible for a loan from an MDO, an ultimate recipient must be a business with 10 or fewer full-time employees and be located in a non-metropolitan rural area with a population of 50,000 or less.

USDA encourages applications that will support recommendations made in the Report to the President of the United States from the Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity (PDF, 5.4 MB) to help improve life in rural America. Applications are being accepted in the Rural Development State Office where the project is located in either a paper or electronic format.

Applicants are encouraged to consider projects that provide measurable results in helping rural communities build robust and sustainable economies through strategic investments. Key strategies include:
• Achieving e-Connectivity for Rural America
• Developing the Rural Economy
• Harnessing Technological Innovation
• Supporting a Rural Workforce
• Improving Quality of Life

Innovations connecting rural Nebraska

Good Job Senator Schatz for Reaching Across the Isle to get Rural Hawaii High Speed Internet Access!!!

Innovations connecting rural Nebraska

By Sen. Deb Fischer
The Grand Island Independent

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on the importance of connectivity. From virtual learning to telehealth, remaining connected is critical to keeping all communities — especially rural communities — safe, healthy, and in touch. A key component of achieving this connectivity is Internet of Things (IoT) technology, which uses embedded sensors in devices and everyday objects to enable the transmission of data between devices and to the internet.

Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers have kept grocery store shelves stocked throughout this pandemic, and many have relied on IoT-based precision agriculture to increase yields, lower costs, and conserve resources. This includes using IoT technology to identify pests, crop diseases, and nutrient deficiencies in real-time, monitor soil condition and irrigation, and remotely control their equipment for more efficient data-driven insights. Nebraska agriculture is central to our state’s economy, with the industry contributing over $21 billion annually. Precision agriculture brings major benefits to our state’s economic engine.

There is an exciting partnership going on in Arnold that highlights exactly how this technology can benefit our state. Global company Paige Electric recently established Paige Wireless, based in Columbus. The company launched a pilot project of its low-power, wide-area network in Arnold in conjunction with other local organizations such as the Custer Public Power District, Great Plains Communications and its existing fiber network, as well as through a co-op with wireless internet service providers.

The co-op has brought great benefits to the community. It provides both residential and commercial internet service at speeds comparable to service in urban areas of the state. The network also supports the community through precision ag connectivity. For example, the Smith Farm outside of Arnold had traditional DSL internet in their home, but were unable to connect at the barn—their place of business. Through the co-op’s network, the farm now has access to “walk around WIFI” at their barn that enables real-time data management such as video analytics to test for crop nutrient deficiencies. Further, Arnold Public Schools have been able to expand career exploration activities for students using cropland-focused network technology. In another example, the Twin Platte Natural Resources Department formed a public-private partnership with Paige to deploy 350 sensors across the district, allowing producers to track water supply in real-time.

These are exciting developments, and they highlight why I have long been an advocate for using IoT technology to increase rural connectivity. This January, the Senate passed the DIGIT Act, bipartisan legislation I introduced along with Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). The bill would create a working group of experts, including agriculture stakeholders, to provide recommendations to Congress on how to facilitate the development of IoT technology and maximize deployment of the technology within the United States. I look forward to this legislation passing the House and making its way to President Trump’s desk.

At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of connectivity in our lives, Nebraska is serving as a role model for other states when it comes to forging innovative public-private communications and technology partnerships. I will continue to be a voice for Nebraska and work to make sure that all of our communities have the connectivity they need.

Deb Fischer

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb., serves as a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and Senate Commerce Committee.