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Lawmakers urge focus on rural broadband funding

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Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D., Va.) and Rodney Davis (R., Ill.) are leading a bipartisan effort requesting funding to expand rural broadband internet connectivity across rural America and to ensure equal educational and economic opportunities in rural communities.

While speaking to members of the media, Spanberger, who also serves on the House Agriculture Committee, said according to the Federal Communications Commission’s 2018 "Broadband Deployment Report," more than 30% of Americans in rural areas lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, compared to only 2% of Americans in urban areas.

She said this is causing a detrimental divide with effects ranging from not allowing young families to return to more rural areas to issues with attracting businesses. In addition, much modern farm equipment uses technologies that require the ability to communicate data up and back.

To address this connectivity gap, Spanberger and Davis led a bipartisan letter urging key House Appropriations Committee members to boost funding for rural broadband internet infrastructure. In their letter, the lawmakers stressed the immediate need to expand high-speed internet access for rural homes, schools and businesses.

“Affordable broadband access is critical for the economic development of rural communities, enabling them to fully participate in the internet-based economy,” the letter states. “It enables farmers to use precision agriculture techniques, patients to access medical care remotely via telemedicine, children to conduct research for school projects and businesses to engage with customers.”

The letter calls for the House appropriations subcommittee on agriculture, rural development, food and drug administration and related agencies to provide $550 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s ReConnect Program, which helps strengthen broadband internet connectivity and rural and underserved areas. Additionally, the letter requests $350 million for the rural broadband loan and grant program — an amount authorized in the 2018 farm bill. This funding would represent an overall increase of $350 million in rural broadband development funding from fiscal 2019.

In fiscal 2018 and 2019, Congress appropriated $600 million and $550 million, respectively, for a pilot broadband loan and grant program. This program was launched in December 2018 by USDA as the ReConnect Rural Broadband Program and addresses one of the core recommendations of President Donald Trump’s Interagency Task Force on Agriculture & Rural Prosperity.

“These programs play a role in meeting the goal of broadband access for all Americans, and therefore, we request that the ReConnect Program receive level funding at the [fiscal 2019] level and the farm bill-authorized program receive funding at the authorized amount,” the letter continues. “We believe that support for these programs is critical to address the ‘digital divide’ and ensure that our rural communities have equal access to opportunity.”

The letter led by Spanberger and Davis was co-signed by 71 additional Democrats and Republicans. Click here to read the full letter.

TAGS: Policy
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