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Senators unveil $40B bill aimed at closing the broadband divide

The legislation seeks to make broadband internet more affordable and accessible.

The US Capitol Building
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A bipartisan group of senators on Tuesday unveiled new legislation that aims to close the digital divide by making broadband internet more affordable and accessible. The proposed bill, reported earlier by The Washington Post, would give $40 billion in flexible funding to states, tribal governments and US territories to build out broadband networks in their communities and support local initiatives that promote affordability and adoption. 

The bill -- called the Broadband Reform and Investment to Drive Growth in the Economy Act, or Bridge Act -- is co-sponsored by Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, and Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine. 

"The coronavirus pandemic has made it clear that broadband is essential infrastructure," said King in a release. "I'm proud to cosponsor this legislation to fund resilient, future-proof broadband infrastructure that connects every corner of our country to the internet's possibilities and enables all American communities to take part in the 21st century economy."

The need for affordable broadband has become increasingly obvious over the past year as the COVID-19 pandemic forced everything from family gatherings to classes and business meetings to go online. A Pew Research survey from last year found that roughly half of Americans with lower incomes worried about paying their broadband and cellphone bills. 

The Bridge Act would also prioritize building so-called "future proof" networks so that infrastructure doesn't become outdated, according to the release. New networks would be encourage to support upload and download speeds of at least 100 Mbps.