House Members Want USDA Broadband Program to Move Forward

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Multiple members of the House Agriculture Committee said Tuesday they want to push their colleagues to move the Agriculture Department’s two-year-old program to deploy rural broadband past the pilot stage. The broadband ReConnect program furnishes loans and grants for the costs of construction, improvement or acquisition of equipment needed to deploy broadband service in eligible rural areas.

The ReConnect program “has served its purpose as a pilot. Now it’s time to deliver on policies and programs that we promised,” said ranking member G.T. Thompson (R-PA). He and colleagues, including Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) stressed fully funding the effort, reported The Hill.  

House Agriculture Committee Chair David Scott (D-GA) said he wants the panel to be “at the vanguard” of closing the digital divide. He hopes to put together legislation addressing broadband issues by the end of the year, according to The Hill.

Lawmakers acknowledge tensions centering on the multiple agencies that deliver broadband subsidies, all relying on different metrics and data. These issues will likely matter as part of President Joe Biden’s push for $100 billion in broadband investments in his infrastructure plan. Roger Wicker of Mississippi, top Republican on Senate Commerce, recently urged greater interagency coordination, Inside Towers reported.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo reassured lawmakers at a separate hearing on Tuesday that the Biden administration wants to coordinate on broadband across agencies.

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