Owens introduces broadband expansion bill

Legislation aimed at facilitating broadband expansion in rural communities was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week.

North Country Congressman Bill Owens is the bill's sole sponsor. It aims to facilitate the expansion of high-speed internet access throughout northern New York.

Owens, who represents New York's 23rd Congressional District, says the bill - the Rural Broadband Initiative Act of 2011 - targets economic development and job creation in local communities.

Specifically, the legislation creates an undersecretary position within the U.S. Department of Agriculture responsible for developing a "comprehensive strategy" to expand broadband access in rural America.

According to Owens, a recent report issued by the Government Accountability Office found that billions of dollars in taxpayer money could be saved by consolidating or eliminating redundant federal programs.

Owens says a good start would be to streamline the broadband loan and grant programs, which currently lack an overall strategic plan.

"Centralizing these under one office would help to cut down on duplicative programs, force the federal government to work more efficiently, and give the American taxpayer a bigger bang for their buck," Owens said.

Owens adds that his legislation - which is essentially the same as a bill introduced last year by former 20th Congressional District Representative Scott Murphy - would serve rural areas in a "variety of ways in addition to its intended effect on economic development."

For example, Owens says greater access to high-speed internet improves the quality of education for students attending rural school districts.

The bill, he adds, would also make rural health care "more efficient through electronic medical records, and would improve the efficiency of federal programs."

Owens says there is a direct relationship between access to high-speed internet and the success of a given business.

"This bill will help to create the conditions necessary for upstate New York businesses to continue to move into the global marketplace, and make the area more attractive to outside businesses to expand into the region, creating jobs in the process," he said.

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