Senator Tina Smith Leads Push on USDA to More Quickly Allocate COVID-19 Relief Funds to Bolster Rural Broadband Access

From Senator Smith’s office…

Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) led her Senate colleagues in calling on the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to speed up spending the resources allocated within COVID-19 relief legislation to expand broadband access for Minnesota families and people across the country.

In her letter to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue this week, Sen. Smith and her colleagues point out that Congress recognized the urgent need for broadband access in rural communities, and made sure the CARES Act included $100 million for the ReConnect Program. However, much of the allocated funds are still unspent.

Sen. Smith’s letter was also signed by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Doug Jones (D-Ala.), Jeffrey A. Merkley (D-Ore.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D-Pa.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.).

The USDA ReConnect program was designed to address the digital divide by equipping rural America with grants and loans to facilitate and fund constructing new broadband infrastructure.

“The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on rural America, further stretching what is already limited resources in rural and native communities across the country,” wrote Sen. Smith and her colleagues to Sec. Perdue. “The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to work from home, students to learn from home, and people to access healthcare from home. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that broadband isn’t just nice, it is necessary for our nation’s economy to work for everyone.

“Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rural and native communities were already facing a broadband gap. According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, over 25% of rural Americans are without access to fixed terrestrial broadband at quality speeds, compared to only 1.7% of Americans living in an urban environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted these broadband deficiencies as Americans are forced to stay home to work and go to school.

“We ask that you listen to the needs of millions of Americans living in rural communities across the country, expedite the spending of ReConnect program dollars, and prioritize improved broadband access.”

You can access a copy of the letter here and below:

June 22, 2020

The Honorable Sonny Perdue
Secretary
U.S. Department of Agriculture
1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
Washington, D.C. 20501

Dear Secretary Perdue,

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is having a disproportionate impact on rural America, further stretching what is already limited resources in rural and native communities across the country. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to work from home, students to learn from home, and people to access healthcare from home. The COVID-19 pandemic has proven that broadband isn’t just nice, it is necessary for our nation’s economy to work for everyone.

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, rural and native communities were already facing a broadband gap. According to the FCC’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, over 25% of rural Americans are without access to fixed terrestrial broadband at quality speeds, compared to only 1.7% of Americans living in an urban environment. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted these broadband deficiencies as Americans are forced to stay home to work and go to school.

The USDA ReConnect program was specifically designed to address rural and urban internet inequities, by equipping rural America with grants and loans to facilitate and fund construction of new broadband infrastructure. Recognizing the need for broadband access in rural communities, Congress appropriated an additional $100 million under The CARES Act for the ReConnect Program. However, the USDA has only obligated a small fraction of this money. These funds are desperately needed, and it is unacceptable that this money is still unspent.

We ask that you listen to the needs of millions of Americans living in rural communities across the country, expedite the spending of ReConnect program dollars, and prioritize improved broadband access.

Sincerely,

This entry was posted in Funding, MN, Policy and tagged by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

Librarian who follows rural broadband in MN and good uses of new technology (blandinonbroadband.org), hosts a radio show on MN music (mostlyminnesota.com), supports people experiencing homelessness in Minnesota (elimstrongtowershelters.org) and helps with social justice issues through Women’s March MN.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s