Senators Roger Marshall, M.D. (R-KS) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) are joining 21 of their colleagues to push for full funding of the USDA rural broadband loan and grant program for Fiscal Year 2023.
The 2018 Senate-passed Farm Bill increased the annual funding authorization level of the USDA broadband program to $350 million. Congress also authorized supplemental funding of $1.9 billion over 10 years for the ReConnect Pilot program in the Infrastructure Law, an extra $2 billion investment on USDA programs for expanding broadband in rural areas.
“Affordable, high-speed internet access is critical for the economic development and quality of life of the nation’s rural communities. Nationally, more than 17.3 percent of Americans in rural areas lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, compared to only 2 percent of Americans in urban areas,” the lawmakers say in a letter to Tammy Baldwin (D-IL), and John Hoeven (R-ND). Baldwin and Hoeven are Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Subcommittee on Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies.
Marshall, Gillibrand and the other Senators note that, “Too often, loan financing does not offer enough incentive or support for service providers to invest in rural communities that have the greatest need. By combining grants with loans, as well as making additional improvements to the USDA Rural Broadband Program like raising speed standards,” the 2018 Farm Bill “enhances the economic feasibility of projects that provide high-speed, high-quality internet to rural America,” explain the legislators.
By Leslie Stimson, Inside Towers Washington Bureau Chief