Rep. Kelly Celebrates Policy Victories for Rural America

Dec 13, 2018

U.S. Agriculture Department announces new program to build broadband infrastructure in rural communities

House & Senate pass bipartisan Farm Bill, send to White House

WASHINGTON — U.S. Representative Mike Kelly (R-PA) – a member of the House Ways and Means Committee – issued the following statement today regarding the federal advancement of two major priorities for the nation’s rural areas that occurred over the last two days: between Tuesday and Wednesday, both houses of Congress passed the final version of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (H.R. 2, also known as the “Farm Bill”); earlier this afternoon, the Office of Rural Development at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) launched the ReConnect Program to expand e-connectivity to rural communities in need.

“Rural families in Western Pennsylvania and across our country received a tractor-load of good news from Washington this week. By an overwhelming bipartisan margin, Congress passed a powerful farm bill that will protect our natural resources, develop new trade opportunities, level the playing field for producers, and help millions of Americans access the nutritious foods they need to keep their families healthy. We’ll accomplish these goals while also rolling back regulations, streamlining services, eliminating unnecessary programs, and increasing efficiency in the programs that work best and serve the most. I’m also excited by the USDA’s brand-new pilot program to bring high-speed internet to these same hardworking American households. These are not red or blue issues—they’re red, white, and blue issues.”

Courtesy of the House Agriculture Committee:

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 achieves the following:

  • Streamlines government. Streamlines government programs, eliminates redundancy and rolls back heavy-handed federal regulations on our nation’s farmers, ranchers and foresters.
  • Ensures Fiscal Responsibility. Improves existing programs to maximize efficiency, reduces waste and maintains fiscally responsible stewardship of taxpayer dollars.
  • Improves Anti-Hunger Programs. Includes improvements to the nation’s largest anti-hunger program (SNAP) to help lift families out of poverty and into good-paying jobs.
  • Secures Rural America. Better targets resources to maintain our commitment to rural development while addressing threats to plant and animal health.
  • Preserves our Farms & Forests. Keeps our land and resources sustainable for our children and grandchildren by encouraging voluntary, incentive-based conservation practices that protect our farms and forests alike.
  • Strengthens the Farm Safety Net. Provides stability for America’s farmers and ranchers through improvements to the farm safety net and ensures we have defensible programs that meet the needs of all producers.
  • Facilitates Agricultural Trade Exports. Supports the development of new international markets for agricultural exports, helping grow the economy and create jobs.

Courtesy of the USDA:

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue today announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is offering up to $600 million in loans and grants to help build broadband infrastructure in rural America. Telecommunications companies, rural electric cooperatives and utilities, internet service providers and municipalities may apply for funding through USDA’s new ReConnect Program to connect rural areas that currently have insufficient broadband service. Answering the Administration’s call to action for rural prosperity, Congress appropriated funds in the fiscal year 2018 budget for this broadband pilot program. USDA Rural Development is the primary agency delivering the program, with assistance from other federal partners.   

“High-speed internet e-Connectivity is a necessity, not an amenity, vital for quality of life and economic opportunity, so we hope that today rural communities kick off their rural broadband project planning,” Secretary Perdue said. “Under the leadership of President Trump, USDA has worked to understand the true needs of rural communities facing this challenge so we can be strong partners to create high-speed, reliable broadband e-Connectivity.”   

USDA will make available approximately $200 million for grants (applications due to USDA by April 29), as well as $200 million for loan and grant combinations (applications due May 29), and $200 million for low-interest loans (applications due by June 28).     

Projects funded through this initiative must serve communities with fewer than 20,000 people with no broadband service or where service is slower than 10 megabits per second (mbps) download and 1 mbps upload.   

Approved projects must create access speeds of at least 25 mbps upload and 3 mbps download. Priority will be awarded for projects that propose to deliver higher-capacity connections to rural homes, businesses and farms. USDA seeks to stretch these funds as far as possible by leveraging existing networks and systems without overbuilding existing services greater than 10/1 mpbs.   

Evaluation criteria include connecting agricultural production and marketing, e-Commerce, health care and education facilities. Previous research by USDA has demonstrated that high capacity broadband is critical to all aspects of rural prosperity, including the ability to grow and attract businesses, retain and develop talent, and maintain rural quality of life.

To help customers with the application process, USDA is holding a series of online webinars and regional in-person workshops. The full list of upcoming public webinars and workshops can be found at the ReConnect Program’s resource portal at reconnect.usda.gov.

###