Rep. Ted Budd: How Congress can connect rural North Carolina

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Lately in Washington, there has been a lot of talk and debate around the definition of “infrastructure.” As someone who still lives on the family farm in Davie County, I know for certain that broadband should be considered infrastructure. Rural Americans across our state and our nation should not have their economic opportunity or output diminished by their zip code. There are good, market-based solutions out there to help all Americans reach their full educational and economic potential.

One of those solutions is the Gigabyte Opportunity (GO) Act. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), approximately 19 million Americans — 6 percent of the population—lack reliable access to broadband at sufficient speeds. The FCC defines broadband internet as providing 25 megabyte per second downstream and 3 megabyte per second upstream (25/3 mbps) speeds. Often, internet service providers do not believe that the cost of laying and maintaining fiber optic cable in sparsely populated areas will see enough returns in the form of new customers to justify further building.

That is why the GO Act would empower the FCC to establish Gigabyte Opportunity Zones in low-income areas that do not have fixed broadband speeds of at least 25/3 mbps. Within these zones, providers would be able to receive deferrals, reductions, or exemptions from taxes on capital gains associated with any broadband infrastructure they create. Additionally, broadband deployment projects within Gigabyte Opportunity Zones would be able to be funded by Private Activity Bonds, which are tax-exempt and issued by local and state governments.

Encouraging private investment in the broadband infrastructure rural North Carolina needs will make a tangible difference. Small businesses will have the certainty they need to serve their customers and expand their operations. Larger companies will be able to move into more rural areas with the confidence that they can be supported by sufficient internet speeds. And families will no longer need to weigh their children’s educational opportunities and their employment options against their desire to live in more remote areas.

Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March of 2020, much has been made about the digital divide that exists in America. In my view, the pandemic exacerbated that gap and brought to light the structural issues that have disadvantaged rural America in the 21st century online economy.

I want all North Carolinians to be able to live where their roots grow deep without limiting their own potential. The GO Act would go a long way in making sure every American can fully participate in our modern information economy.

Ted Budd is a member of Congress representing North Carolina’s 13th Congressional District.