Fierce Telecom reports…
Congress already allocated $65 billion for broadband in 2021 via the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), but as negotiations over the 2023 Farm Bill get underway some are angling for even more cash to boost rural broadband.
According to the Congressional Research Service, the Farm Bill is a sprawling piece of legislation covering agricultural and food programs that is revisited every five years or so. The last Farm Bill was passed in late 2018, meaning it is up for renewal in the back half of 2023.
Though you might not immediately associate internet infrastructure with agriculture, rural broadband programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have been a part of the Farm Bill since 2002. The ReConnect Program is probably the best-known of these, but the USDA also oversees the Telecommunications Infrastructure Program, Rural Broadband Program (RBP), Community Connect Grant Program (CCGP), and Distance Learning and Telemedicine Program (DLTP).
Annual appropriations for the last three – $350 million for the RBP, $50 million for the CCGP and $75 million to $82 million for the DLTP – were included in the 2018 bill and are set to expire on September 30 of this year. The ReConnect Program has received funding sporadically through separate legislation, including $2 billion from the IIJA in 2021. But the Congressional Research Service noted Congress could consider a longer-term funding mechanism for ReConnect in its 2023 Farm Bill.