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US Sen. Hirono leading bipartisan bill to prioritize broadband access for small businesses

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US Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaiʻi has been an advocate for prioritizing broadband access for small businesses. Photo Courtesy: Hawaiian Telecom

US Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI), a member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, joined senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and John Kennedy (R-LA) in reintroducing legislation to prioritize broadband access for small businesses.

The Small Business Broadband and Emerging Information Technology Enhancement Act would improve programs operated by the Small Business Administration to address problems around the lack of broadband internet and other emerging information technology resources, and to better assist small businesses in accessing and successfully adopting these tools.

Access to broadband services in rural areas throughout Hawaiʻi and the country has become a top concern since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced businesses and workers to adopt virtual operations.

“Access to broadband is essential to small business owners, allowing them to connect with customers, promote their businesses, and leverage emerging technologies,” Sen. Hirono said. “In Hawaiʻi, where 99% of all businesses are small businesses, rural and historically underserved communities – including many Native Hawaiian communities – face inequitable broadband access, making it harder for them to start and operate new businesses.

“This bipartisan legislation will help end these disparities and strengthen our economy by enhancing the Small Business Administration’s ability to provide small businesses the resources and support they need to utilize broadband and remain competitive.”

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Specifically, the Small Business Broadband and Emerging Information Technology Enhancement Act would make the following improvements to the SBA’s approach to broadband by:

  • Directing the SBA Office of Investment and Innovation to designate a senior employee to serve as the broadband and emerging information technology coordinator.
  • Providing SBA employees BEIT training to assist small businesses in the use of such technologies.
  • Reporting on a biennial basis regarding the programs and activities of the SBA relating to broadband and other emerging information technologies.
  • Requiring the SBA Chief Counsel for Advocacy to evaluate the impact of broadband speed and price on small businesses.
  • Making services such as assistance in accessing and using BEIT an authorized activity of small business development centers.
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Bill text is available here.

Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), James Risch (R-ID) and Ed Markey (D-MA) are also original sponsors of the bill.

Sen. Hirono reports that she has consistently advocated for expanding access to broadband and emerging information technology for small businesses and entrepreneurs, and has supported this legislation since it was first introduced during the 114th Congress (2015-2016).

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During the pandemic, she supported efforts to expand access to broadband – including for businesses, workers and families, students and others. Recently, she supported the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which Congress passed in November to provide an historic investment of $65 billion to improve broadband access in local communities.

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