Bipartisan legislation to improve internet access for consumers, especially those in rural areas, was introduced by U.S. Sens Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., and Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn.

The Internet Exchange Act, Senate Bill 1166, would authorize matching grants to be administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to new internet exchange facilities where none exist or expand an existing one. It also permits eligible recipients under the E-Rate program (for schools and libraries) and Telehealth program to use available funding to contract with a broadband provider to obtain a connection to an exchange facility, or to pay for the costs of maintaining a point of presence at the facility.

IX facilities provide opportunities for data centers and cloud computing to be collocated at IX sites, thus increasing efficiency and boosting local economies. Currently, IXs are concentrated in big cities and in the coastal states.

"We need to strengthen our internet infrastructure to better serve Middle America and rural communities, and improve the online experience for people in all parts of our country," Baldwin said in a prepared statement. "This bipartisan measure will help expand broadband access across our country. By investing in our internet infrastructure and adding more internet exchanges in Wisconsin and throughout the heartland, we can help more rural households and rural businesses gain better access to high-speed internet."

Internet exchanges are physical locations where networks come together. They allow subscribers of different internet service providers to communicate with one another. The exchanges also provide opportunities for content delivery networks and others to cache content closer to end-users, thus reducing latency and increasing network efficiency to improve the online experience for consumers, especially in rural areas.

"You can't have a 21st century education, 21st century health care, or a 21st century business without access to 21st century internet," Blackburn said in a prepared statement. "The bipartisan IX Act will make big strides in closing the digital divide in Tennessee by providing internet access to areas with the highest degree of need."