Deb Fischer: Investing in broadband

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I often talk about the importance of investing in our core infrastructure. That’s things like our roads, bridges, railways, airports, drinking water systems, and ports.

But in today’s digital age, internet connectivity is just as integral to modern life as any other more “traditional” form of physical infrastructure.

Many small businesses need reliable access to broadband services to function. Family farmers and ranchers, who are increasingly integrating digital sensors, smart devices and other precision agriculture technologies into their operations, rely on broadband access. Connectivity also empowers young people to stay in our more rural communities and attracts new economic opportunities.

This is why for many years I’ve worked extensively on policies to expand broadband access, as well as improve the manner in which the government coordinates its broadband deployment investments.

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For example, the bipartisan infrastructure law, which I voted for, could provide the state of Nebraska with approximately $200 million to expand broadband networks and access. I also successfully added a provision to the legislation to enhance coordination of the federal government’s broadband build-out programs. This ensures that they are managed efficiently.

The majority of the broadband deployment under the infrastructure law will be administered by a program that will prioritize connecting unserved locations across the country. In Nebraska, there are a number of rural areas that can especially benefit from this program.

The overall goal of these investments is straightforward: closing the digital divide and making broadband more accessible for Nebraskans throughout our state.

The Unicameral has done good work to capitalize on the broadband money from the infrastructure law and other federal funding streams. In fact, the legislature established the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Program to help advance broadband network deployment and oversee the implementation of funds.

The state has also created a new website, broadband.nebraska.gov, that will help Nebraskans better understand the various programs that they can leverage to get broadband in their home or business.

I am pleased to see these initiatives come to life, and I am excited about the progress our state can make in expanding broadband access for all Nebraskans.

However, we must make sure our ever-expanding communications over the internet are also secure. Our wireless and wireline networks face a number of threats from foreign actors. These threats can come in many forms, from cyberattacks to the installation of compromised telecommunications equipment.

Chinese technology companies like Huawei and ZTE, for example, are known to produce equipment that if left unchecked, would leave us vulnerable to espionage or disruption by the Chinese Communist Party.

To tackle this challenge and protect our broadband networks, my colleagues and I created a program in 2020 to help communities pay to remove and replace suspect equipment.

Now, however, this federal program faces a significant funding shortfall. I believe it’s critical that Congress address this financing gap so we can ensure we are fully countering Chinese threats to our telecommunications infrastructure. I recently led a group of senators in a bipartisan letter highlighting why it’s important that the program can completely cover the replacement of at-risk gear.

Failing to properly fund this program to replace at-risk telecommunications equipment directly jeopardizes our national security. It will also delay the progress we are making to expand broadband access — particularly in more remote areas of our state and country.

I will continue to work tirelessly on these issues of broadband deployment and security. By investing in connectivity, we can ensure the future of Nebraska and the Good Life is bright.

Thank you for participating in the democratic process. I look forward to visiting with you again next week.