House Ag Committee approves rural broadband bill 

The House Agriculture Committee unanimously advanced a bipartisan bill on July 13 authorizing $43 billion to expand rural broadband service through increasing USDA loans and grants programs. 

Among other provisions, the Broadband Internet Connections for Rural America Act (HR 4374) would authorize $4.5 billion annually for the ReConnect Rural Broadband Program, starting in fiscal year 2022 through fiscal year 2029. 

In an opening statement, House Agriculture Committee Chairman David Scott, D-Ga., said: “It is impossible to overstate how important it is that we get every single resident of rural America connected to high-speed and affordable broadband.”

Ranking Member Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., said the bill “sets the stage for a historic investment in rural broadband, and for us to finally close the digital divide.” He added that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “has the expertise, experience, and reach to bring these investments to rural America quickly and responsibly.”

The bill could potentially be folded into the bipartisan infrastructure package currently being negotiated between Congress and the White House. 

Meanwhile, Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., introduced a broadband bill this week in the Senate that would “streamline the funding process and remove barriers for broadband connectivity in hard-to-serve rural areas.” Under the Assisting Broadband Connectivity Act, USDA rural broadband programs would change so that certain areas are no longer automatically ineligible for federal funding because the project previously received state funding.