WASHINGTON — U.S. Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), ranking member and chairman, respectively, of the Subcommittee on Communications, Media, and Broadband, and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) today reintroduced the Rural Internet Improvement Act. This bipartisan legislation would streamline and bolster U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development broadband programs and ensure that their funding is being targeted to rural areas that need it the most. Thune, Luján, Klobuchar, and Fischer are all members of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry.
“Expanding access to broadband services and connectivity in rural areas across South Dakota is a must,” said Thune. “Access to these broadband services is typically determined by where you live, which often leaves rural communities in a less advantageous position than their urban counterparts. Our bipartisan legislation would help bridge the digital divide by improving USDA’s ReConnect Program to ensure its funding goes to truly unserved areas.”
“New Mexicans understand the difference between fast internet, slow internet, and no internet,” said Luján. “This must change to bridge the digital divide that leaves rural and Tribal communities unconnected. I’m proud to introduce this bipartisan legislation to deliver investments to communities that need it most.”
“The ReConnect program is critical for rural communities across the country, helping families connect to critical opportunities online while enabling farms and businesses to access new technologies,” said Klobuchar. “This bipartisan legislation will make key improvements to this popular program, allowing for a more convenient application process and more efficient deployment. As co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ll keep fighting to ensure all Americans can access the high-speed internet they need.”
“Expanding broadband access for communities that lack reliable internet access has always been a priority for me,” said Fischer. “I’m proud to support this important legislation that improves the ReConnect Program’s efficiency and brings us one step closer to ending the digital divide.”
This bipartisan legislation is supported by NCTA – The Internet and Television Association, NTCA – the Rural Broadband Association, USTelecom – The Broadband Association, the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Seed Trade Association, and the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Read their quotes of support here.
The Rural Internet Improvement Act would:
- Streamline USDA’s broadband authorities by merging and codifying the popular Rural e-Connectivity Pilot Program (ReConnect) with USDA’s traditional broadband loan and grant program;
- Ensure ReConnect funding is going to areas most in need of reliable broadband service by limiting funding to areas where at least 90 percent of households lack access to broadband service;
- Enhance the participation of all types of broadband providers in the ReConnect Program by removing unnecessary barriers;
- Increase transparency by improving the challenge process in the ReConnect Program;
- Improve the coordination between USDA and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) on broadband programs; and
- Require USDA to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the FCC and National Telecommunications and Information Administration to facilitate outreach to rural residents and businesses of available federal programs that promote broadband access, broadband affordability, and broadband inclusion.
Thune recently launched his nationwide broadband oversight effort, which will hold agencies accountable and ensure that previously authorized broadband funding is being used in the most efficient way possible to protect taxpayer dollars.
Thune, who has helped write four farm bills throughout his time in Congress, will continue introducing farm bill proposals ahead of the current bill’s expiration in September 2023.