Moolenaar bill aims to 'boost' rural broadband access

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan's Republican U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar is introducing a bill in Congress this week to create a refundable tax credit of up to $300 for the household purchase of a signal booster or mobile hot spot equipment. 

Eligible purchases would be in certain areas where broadband speeds either don't meet the federal minimum standard or there is no broadband connection, he said.

The bill is dubbed the BOOST Act, which stands for Broadening Online Opportunities through Simple Technologies Act.

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland.

"This will help lower the costs of these connection options for families throughout rural Michigan," said Moolenaar, whose district includes rural counties in Michigan's central and northern lower peninsula. 

Moolennar, a Midland Republican, said from virtual schooling to telemedicine, the pandemic has illustrated the importance of "why we need to move the ball forward on rural broadband." 

"What we realize is that the plans to get to some of the lower density areas of population, it's multiple years out," he said. 

"This is more of an interim step that allows homeowners to access whatever wireless technology they can access, and have some of the barriers to that taken down."

The U.S. Census Bureau in late 2019 estimated that 15 million American households are below the federal minimum standard for broadband speeds, with over 5 million people without any broadband connection. 

The tax credit described in Moolenaar's bill would expire when the broadband speed in the household's area reaches the federal minimum standard (25 mbps — millions of bits per second — for downloading and 3 mbps for uploading) or after the credit sunsets in five years, according to a bill summary. 

Moolenaar noted the bill is technology "neutral," meaning the credit is available for technology that would increase data speeds. 

He doesn't have co-sponsors yet, but he predicts it will gain a lot of bipartisan support. Democrats control the U.S. House.