A bipartisan bill has been introduced that would allow private companies, as well as nonprofits, to team with public entities to apply for almost $1.5 billion in subsidy money for broadband (and other purposes) being made available Thursday (May 7) of Commerce, in effect broadening the reach of those broadband dollars. 

Commerce is making the money available thanks to an allocation in the CARES Act COVID-19 aid bill. 

The Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (E-BRIDGE) Act ensures that "local communities can partner with the private sector." 

It was introduced by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, both West Virginia Democrats in a state with a big rural digital divide. 

The bill would also allow more flexibility in how grant recipients comply with matching fund requirements. 

“Today Senator Capito and I introduced the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (E-BRIDGE) Act which will remove a number of regulatory hurdles that currently prevent EDA from engaging in broadband development more broadly," said Manchin. 

Specifically, the bill would: 

· "Eliminate barriers to investments in broadband in distressed communities, making them eligible for EDA grants. 

· "Clarify that eligible recipients may include public-private partnerships and consortia to leverage private sector expertise in project development. 

· "Provide flexibility in the procurement process to account for limited availability of broadband services in distressed communities. 

· "Clarify that funds can be combined with other federal resources. 

· "Provide flexibility on accounting for in-kind methods to meet non-federal cost share."