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Nolan introduces new rural broadband initiative

WASHINGTON - Rep. Rick Nolan, D.-Minn., introduced legislation to help implement high-speed broadband in the rural U.S, a release announced Monday. Nolan's Rural Broadband Initiative Act (H.R. 3152) is designed to lay the foundation for new fundi...

WASHINGTON - Rep. Rick Nolan, D.-Minn., introduced legislation to help implement high-speed broadband in the rural U.S, a release announced Monday.

Nolan's Rural Broadband Initiative Act (H.R. 3152) is designed to lay the foundation for new funding and a coordinated federal strategy to bring 21st Century high-tech communications services to underserved rural people and businesses.

"It's time to bring high-speed broadband to all of rural America," Nolan declared. "More than half of all rural Americans are without high-speed broadband. Yet there is currently no clear Congressionally approved plan, no strategy, and no single federal office responsible for helping connect tens of millions of rural people to modern broadband services. Here in rural America, high-speed broadband is essential to our ability to compete - to help start new businesses, create new jobs, attract new people and provide the education and health care services so essential to our quality of life."

Nolan said his measure would centralize key rural broadband grant and loan initiatives under one Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Under the direction of a new Under-Secretary appointed by the President, the office would administer roughly $724 million in existing rural broadband loan and grant programs - streamlining regulations and acting as a one-stop clearinghouse to provide assistance for local, state and regional governments seeking to connect their areas.

The office would further act as central clearinghouse of broadband information for all federal agencies - including the Federal Communications Commission, which administers some $4.5 billion specifically designated for rural areas.

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The bill would also establish a sense of Congress that "necessary funds should be made available to provide universal and affordable broadband access" across the nation "with a focus on underserved rural communities." This provision is considered key to future budget requests that would follow a wide-ranging assessment of the rural broadband needs - and a forthcoming report to Congress outlining a national rural broadband strategy - required by Nolan's bill.

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