Two bills introduced this spring would help improve access to broadband in rural America. Farm Bureau supports both the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility (EBRIDGE) Act (S. 1695, H.R. 3193) and the Broadband for Rural America Act (H.R. 3369).
The EBRIDGE Act
The EBRIDGE Act seeks to ensure local communities can partner with the private sector in carrying out broadband projects and gives communities more flexibility in complying with their funding match requirements.
“Broadband is critical for farmers, ranchers and rural communities,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “With 17% of rural Americans still without reliable broadband, the digital divide restricts access to essential education, health care and business resources as well as limits farmers’ capacity to use the latest technology to meet sustainability goals. Farm Bureau appreciates Representatives Sam Graves (R-Mo.) and Michael Guest R-Miss.) for introducing the Eliminating Barriers to Rural Internet Development Grant Eligibility Act.”
Specifically, the bill would eliminate barriers to investments in broadband in distressed communities by making them eligible for Economic Development Administration grants; clarify that eligible recipients may include public-private partnerships and consortiums to leverage private sector expertise in project development; and provide flexibility in the procurement process to account for the limited availability of broadband services in distressed communities.
The measure would also clarify that funds can be combined with other federal resources and provide flexibility on accounting for in-kind methods to meet non-federal cost share.
The Broadband for Rural America Act
The Broadband for Rural America Act would provide more than $7 billion in authorizations for USDA broadband connectivity programs.
“Farm Bureau appreciates the Agriculture Committee’s commitment to strengthening our rural communities and thanks Ranking Member Thompson (R-Penn.) for introducing the Broadband for Rural America Act, which would provide greater investment in USDA broadband programs, as well as foster greater coordination among federal broadband deployment efforts,” Duvall said.
Specifically, the measure would authorize $3.7 billion per year for critical rural broadband programs, including the ReConnect Rural Broadband Program, the Middle Mile Broadband Program and the Innovative Broadband Advancement Program, and target limited resources so assistance is focused on the most rural and least-connected residents, who are often the most expensive to connect. In addition, the bill would promote borrower accountability and develop new tools to ensure promised services are delivered to rural communities.