U.S. Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand, DN.Y., sent a letter calling on the Senate Appropriations Committee to fully fund the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural broadband program for fiscal year 2023.
“If there’s one thing we’ve learned during COVID, it’s that internet access isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity,” Gillibrand said during a video news conference Thursday after -noon.
Gillibrand, in the letter she co-leads with Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kansas, calls for $350 million in federal funding in fiscal year 2023 to help connect Americans living in rural communities to the internet broadband.
In 2018, the Senate passed the Agriculture Improvement Act, better known as the Farm Bill of 2018, and increased the USDA Broadband Program’s annual funding authority level to $350 million per year until 2023. The amount has been authorized annually, but has not been fully funded in recent years, Gillibrand said.
“To bridge this pervasive digital divide, Congress must do its part,” she said.
The funding package would include grants to meet last-mile needs in communities where homes may be hundreds of meters from broadband connections, but still cannot afford to connect to those services. Grants, available to governments and other entities, would help pay for any costs not covered by private companies.
Gillibrand, in the letter, noted a study that found 17.3% of rural Americans lacked access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25Mbps/3Mbps, compared to just 2% of Americans in areas. urban.
“We owe it to all Americans to ensure that we are able to use this critical resource and not be denied opportunity simply because of where they live,” Gillibrand said.
Without access to affordable, high-quality broadband service, Gillibrand said, rural Americans have fewer opportunities for well-paying jobs, farmers and business owners are isolated from new markets, children are limited in educational opportunities and health care providers lack access to advanced technology available to help patients.
“We must close the digital divide in our country and ensure that every American has access to essential technology resources, regardless of zip code or socioeconomic status,” Gillibrand said.
Gillibrand said it was broad stakeholder and bipartisan support for the funding. The $350 million would be in addition to other loan and grant programs under the USDA Rural Utilities Service Broadband Program to invest in rural communities. This includes $1.9 billion in funding over 10 years for USDA’s ReConnect program under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.