Senator Peter Welch (D-VT) and Senator Roger Marshall (R-KS) today introduced the bipartisan ReConnecting Rural America Act, legislation to reauthorize and reinforce the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ReConnect Loan and Grant Program. ReConnect plays a central role in expanding access to high-speed broadband in rural communities, where broadband access is severely limited compared to what is available in urban and suburban areas.
“The last few years have shown all of us how important high-speed broadband is. From online school and remote work to telemedicine, a good connection is essential,” said Sen. Welch. “Many rural communities don’t have access to broadband at all, let alone the higher speeds needed to participate in today’s digital economy. My bill with Sen. Marshall will help more communities access the service they need, with the help of the ReConnect Loan and Grant program. I’m glad to partner with Sen. Marshall on this important bill.”
“The importance of high-speed internet cannot be understated. Unfortunately, in many parts of the country, a quality internet connection is not accessible or affordable. Our rural hospitals, schools, farms, small businesses, and families deserve a reliable and speedy internet connection to meet their family’s needs and fulfill their job requirements,” Sen. Marshall said. “I am proud to lead this bipartisan legislation with Senator Welch that would ensure the more sparsely populated areas of the country are able to access the same internet connectivity as their urban counterparts. When it comes to broadband accessibility, we need to focus on solid infrastructure that is built to last and meets the connectivity demand across every region regardless of its size.”
The ReConnecting Rural America Act is supported by NTCA, National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), Farm Credit Council, and the Fiber Broadband Association.
“As small broadband providers in rural areas work tirelessly to bridge the digital divide, the ReConnect program has been an important resource to get the job done,” said NTCA CEO Shirley Bloomfield. “The ReConnecting Rural America Act improves upon this already successful program to better target funding where it is needed most, recognizes that experience matters when it comes to delivering rural broadband, and ensures that those in the most rural and hard to serve areas receive the same high-quality, high-speed broadband as those in urban areas. We greatly appreciate Senators Welch and Marshall for introducing this legislation today and thank them for their leadership on this critical issue.”
“Efforts to close the digital divide began nearly 25 years ago, and yet many rural families and businesses still lack access to a reliable internet connection simply because of where they choose to live. That’s unacceptable,” said Louis Finkel, Senior Vice President of Government Relations at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA). “The bipartisan ReConnecting Rural America Act will make USDA’s ReConnect Program permanent, and provide the tools and flexibilities necessary for rural providers to meet the unique challenges of building lasting broadband networks in rural areas. We appreciate Senator Welch and Senator Marshall’s efforts to ensure that every family, no matter where they live, has access to broadband.”
“Reliable and consistent broadband is a necessity, not a luxury,” said the Todd Van Hoose, President and CEO of the Farm Credit Council. “This essential service is integral to keeping rural communities thriving. Broadband is needed to attract the next generation of producers into agriculture and for keeping rural residents in rural communities. Farm Credit is committed to supporting our customers’ success, and we thank Senators Welch and Marshall for their leadership to ensure rural communities and residents have access to high-speed broadband service, just as their urban and suburban peers do.”
“The Fiber Broadband Association applauds Senators Welch and Marshall for introducing the ReConnecting Rural America Act of 2023, which reauthorizes the very successful Rural Utilities Service ReConnect program,” said Gary Bolton, President & CEO of the Fiber Broadband Association. “Over the years, the ReConnect program has provided funding to ensure more remote communities in America have the same broadband capabilities as urban areas, connecting them largely with reliable, fiber broadband networks. But, far too many rural communities are still stranded on the wrong side of the digital divide. The legislation introduced by the Senators addresses that important concern. By reauthorizing ReConnect and requiring that projects offer a minimum service build out speed of 100 Mbps symmetrical broadband service, the legislation will ensure that taxpayer dollars are used wisely and most importantly that rural Americans and their communities will receive the broadband connectivity that meets their needs today and tomorrow.”
22% of Americans lack access to fixed terrestrial 25/3 Mbps broadband, the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) minimum standard for broadband speed. Many Americans, in particular in rural areas, lack access to higher speed 100/100 Mbps service required to telecommute, access telemedicine, or participate in remote schooling.
The ReConnecting Rural America Act will codify and clarify components of the ReConnect Program and, in so doing, reduce red tape, and speed broadband deployment. The bill will:
- Establish 100/100 Mbps symmetrical buildout speeds for ReConnect .
- Clarify that USDA can make grants, loans, or grant-loan combinations under ReConnect.
- Set unserved definitions to ensure ReConnect reaches those who need broadband the most, and not building broadband where it is not needed.
- Clarify that Communications Union Districts are eligible entities under ReConnect.
- Improve coordination and communication among stakeholders at the federal level.
To read more about the ReConnect Loan and Grant Program, please click here.
To read the full text of the ReConnecting Rural America Act, please click here.
For a one page summary of the bill, please click here.
For a section-by-section summary of the bill, please click here.