Capito introduces bill intended to spur rural broadband expansion

CHARLESTON — Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., has introduced federal legislation intended to make it easier for companies to expand broadband internet service to rural communities. Capito introduced the Gigabit Opportunity Act on Wednesday, according to a news release. The legislation would give temporary tax deferments to broadband providers and allow communities to set up “Gigabit Opportunity Zones” to encourage expansion.

“The economic benefits of broadband are clear, especially in West Virginia,” Capito said. “Investments in broadband in our communities, coupled with smart public-private partnerships, can jump-start economic development and create jobs.

“The GO Act gives states flexibility, streamlines existing regulations and eliminates barriers to investment so we can better connect our low-income and rural communities.”

According to the FCC, Capito said, about 30 million Americans do not have access to high-speed internet service. About 40 percent of Americans who live in rural or Native American tribal areas do not have broadband access. Capito said the GO Act would direct investments to low-income and rural communities with the greatest potential for economic development by providing tax deferral and immediate expensing for companies investing in gigabit-capable broadband expansion. The legislation also would temporarily defer capital gains for broadband investments and upgrades, and would allow companies to immediately expense the cost of gigabit-capable equipment in Gigabit Opportunity Zones.

The legislation also would allow states to issue tax-exempt bonds without a low-income geographic requirement, Capito said. Key to the idea would be the creation of the Gigabit Opportunity Zones. According to Capito, the GO Act would direct the FCC to release a framework that encourages states, counties and cities to voluntarily adopt streamlined broadband laws and be designated as one of the zones.

West Virginia lawmakers see lack of broadband service as a barrier to economic development.

This year, the West Virginia Legislature passed a law that would provide loan guarantees to companies that want to extend internet service, allow communities or businesses to form internet co-ops to access federal grant money and expand the authority of the state Broadband Council to develop and monitor internet expansion.

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