WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., spent much of Tuesday discussing broadband internet, including ways to increase access in rural communities.
Capito began Tuesday by announcing additional support for the Gigabit Opportunity Act with Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., coming on as a co-sponsor. Coons serves as the ranking member of the Senate Financial Services and General Government subcommittee, which Capito chairs.
The legislation would speed up the development of high-speed internet in low-income and rural areas by attracting business investment through tax deferrals. “Gigabit Opportunity Zones” would be created, allowing companies to expense equipment costs in these areas.
Barriers to new investment would also be eliminated, which Capito argues would allow more competition between internet providers. In addition, state, county and municipal governments would be encouraged to adopt streamlined broadband laws to encourage zone creation.
“Internet access should be broadly available, no matter whether you live in a small town or a big city,” she said Tuesday. “This connectivity is essential to growing our nation’s economy and, more particular, West Virginia’s economy.”
Capito said this is the time for America to close the “digital divide” between communities.
The senator addressed the importance of increasing internet access during the subcommittee’s review of the FCC’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said Capito’s mission in in line with the agency’s goals.
“I appreciate your initiative in introducing the GO Act,” Pai told Capito and the subcommittee. “This will be a substantial effort, I think, in connecting unserved Americans with digital opportunity.”
The FCC is requesting $322 million from Congress, a five-percent decrease from its current total. The agency would cut 102 full-time employees and focus on reducing regulations.
Capito also announced $3 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for internet access in Barbour, Randolph and Upshur counties. According to a statement from Capito’s office, the grant will be matched with $450,000 in local funding. The money can be used for acquiring necessary property and establishing a community center to provide free access.
The grant is part of the senator’s Capito Connect Plan, which focuses on establishing relationships between the public and private sectors and promoting economic growth.