By Jeffery Smith jsmith@the-leader.com

PAINTED POST - Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand says a proposed bill, the Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Act, would close the broadband gaps currently felt in many rural areas that currently don’t receive High-Speed Internet.

Gillibrand, D-NY, visited Corning Incorporated’s Sullivan Park Monday to announce the bipartisan bill that would provide $170 million in federal funds to expand resources available to build high-speed broadband infrastructure.

The bill, if passed, would create a new program to combine grants and loans to help finance projects serving rural areas.

“Reliable, fast internet access isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity in the 21st century economy,” Gillibrand said. “Lack of affordable broadband service cuts off families and businesses from critical services.”

U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, agrees.

“We care about bringing quality, family sustaining jobs to our region through the expansion of high speed Internet,” Reed said. “It’s only right that we do our part to expand access to this critical infrastructure and level the playing field.”

Steuben County Manager Jack Wheeler said broadband access is critical to economic development and quality of life in our communities.

“Outside of our cities and villages, most residents in Steuben County lack access to reliable broadband, putting our area at a clear disadvantage in comparison to urban locations,” Wheeler said. “This legislation will provide critical resources for the expansion of rural access.”

Gillibrand said she is hopeful the bill will be passed late this year or in early 2017.

“Well Tom Reed tells me it’s going to get done,” said Gillibrand smiling toward Reed who was standing directly behind her at the Sullivan Park announcement. “He’s very optimistic. It’s bipartisan, so this is the kind of thing that should get done. I’m optimistic. It’s not a Democratic idea, it’s not a Republican idea, it’s just an idea and those are the things that should get done.”

Marcia D. Weber, executive director of the Southern Tier Central Regional Planning and Development Board, said she welcomes the opportunity to bring these resources to the entire region for a competitive economy and the highest quality of life.

Close to 40,000 Southern Tier residents currently lack access to High-Speed broadband Internet, Gillibrand said.

According to the Federal Communication Commission an estimated 34 million Americans do not have access to High-Speed broadband Internet.

The proposed bill would allow for federal grants of up to 50 percent of a project’s costs, and up to 75 percent for remote, high-need areas, to be awarded in combination with loan funding already available through the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service.

Gillibrand said the legislation also doubles the authorized funding for the Rural Utilities Service’s Broadband programs to $50 million per fiscal year.

By allowing for grant-loan combination financing, the proposal would provide adequate resources to private sector providers, state and local governments and Indian tribes or tribal organizations to expand high-speed, affordable broadband access to underserved rural areas.

Gillibrand, who introduced the bill Sept. 28, said if the bill is passed the funding will be available nationwide.