Senators Ask USDA to Release Broadband Funding for Rural Communities

A bipartisan group of nine Senators led by Ron Wyden, (D-Ore.), encouraged the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on Wednesday to remove requirements making it more difficult for rural communities to access funding for broadband deployment. They delivered a letter to Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, requesting he allow funding to rural communities who have received funding from the Federal Communications Commission for satellite service.

In 2018, Congress created the ReConnect Program which provided over $500 million in funding to “facilitate broadband deployment in rural areas.” In the letter, the Senators say the USDA does not consider satellite service to be sufficient to meet the requirements, which is not in line with the ReConnect Program. They claim high-speed broadband “is vital to reducing the digital divide and harnessing important opportunities in telemedicine and online education, and the high-paying jobs that come with them.”

Rural areas who have already received USDA broadband loans are not eligible for the program, but the Senators argue that those who received funding for satellite service should still be eligible for access to broadband. The group of Senators argues satellite service is not sufficient and Wyden says in his press release that the USDA agrees. “USDA considers satellite coverage insufficient for the needs of rural communities. Satellite service has much lower bandwidth caps, reliability and network speeds than fiber and fixed wireless services.”

The window for applications for this year’s funding closes on March 16, 2020, the Senators also asked for the USDA to extend the deadline to allow the additional communities time to apply or amend their applications. They asked Perdue to give them a response by March 4, 2020.

“USDA can, and should, fix this. USDA is neither statutorily required to eliminate FCC grant recipients from ReConnect eligibility, nor does it consider satellite service as sufficient broadband service for the purposes of awarding ReConnect funding,” the letter said.