Weekly Column

In this polarized age, the news often floods our minds with problems and criticisms. We rarely hear truly good news — news of cooperation and achievement. Today, I’m excited to recap some incredible news for our great state.

Recently, Nebraska was awarded a full $405,281,070 in broadband funding through the BEAD program — that’s almost half a billion dollars. This revolutionary grant will reboot our internet access in the state, especially in rural areas with limited broadband access.

The BEAD program is run by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and was established through the 2021 bipartisan infrastructure law. I worked hard on that bill two years ago, and voted for its passage in part because of its promise to bolster our broadband infrastructure.

As part of that law, I also championed the Broadband Funding Map amendment, which created a mapping tool of areas that have received or will soon receive federal funding for broadband deployment. The map will ensure that federal agencies track where funds have already been granted, so that they can cooperate to prioritize the areas that need broadband buildout the most without overlapping spending.

Anyone who has spent time in the rural areas of our state knows the importance of broadband access — especially to those living along stretches of farmland with few residents, far from the nearest town. Across Nebraska, broadband availability continues to be severely limited. In areas that do have connectivity, it’s still common to run into unacceptably slow or glitchy service. The benefits of broadband deployment have been achieved more quickly in urban and suburban areas, where network construction is easier and more households can be reached per project. It is essential that our harder-to-reach rural communities are not left behind in a digital age.

In our rapidly evolving world, internet access is no longer a luxury — it’s essential for daily life. This connectivity enables us to modernize health care services, help our children do their homework, enhance emergency communications, and keep in touch with our communities. That’s not to mention the massive economic benefits of reliable broadband service. Small businesses across the state need high-speed internet to grow their operations and job seekers need it to find new employment opportunities.

There also is no stronger example of the influence of broadband than the agriculture industry. Rural areas are experiencing increased productivity because of advanced technologies that fuel agricultural growth. Critically, these precision agriculture technologies — which save producers time, water, and other resources by applying the right amount of input for farm activities — also rely on internet connections.

None of this connectivity is possible without broadband infrastructure. According to the Federal Communication Commission’s National Broadband Map, nearly 70,000 locations in Nebraska don’t have high-speed internet service available. For far too long, our state has lacked the broadband infrastructure necessary for communities to unlock new economic opportunities, like precision agriculture, and access critical services, like health care.

This once-in-a-generation investment through the NTIA’s BEAD program will contribute to closing the digital divide and providing Nebraskans with the connectivity they deserve. I look forward to tracking Nebraska’s progress in implementing this historic broadband investment. Nebraska’s new Broadband Office will develop and submit a statewide plan for approval to the NTIA. This plan will serve as a critical blueprint for this effort.

As I’ve often said, it’s vital that every last mile and acre of our state — and our country — has access to reliable internet. As long as I serve in the U.S. Senate, I’ll be working toward that goal.

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