The expansion of rural broadband in the United States is likely the focus of the next federal farm bill

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Jhe coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for federal assistance to expand high-speed internet connectivity to all parts of the country, members of a U.S. House subcommittee agreed last week as They were looking at what provisions might be included in the next farm bill.

“I represent a mostly rural district in North Central and Northeast Florida, and we have kids doing homework in the parking lot of a Hardee,” said U.S. Rep. Kat Cammack, a Republican from Florida. .

Students across the country scrambled to find internet access to participate in virtual learning when the pandemic limited in-person classes. It was a reminder that federal funds should be focused on providing broadband access to as many Americans as possible, Cammack said, rather than increasing the speed of existing services.

Several members of the House Commodity Trade, Energy and Credit Subcommittee echoed such concerns about the so-called “overbuilding” of existing infrastructure during a March 8 hearing that sought to examine the rural development component of the next farm bill, which could be approved next year. .

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The current Farm Bill was last renewed in 2018 and partially expires next year. This is a far-reaching piece of legislation that was expected to cost approximately $428 billion over five years. About three-quarters of that money goes to food aid for low-income residents, and most of the rest goes to crop insurance, commodity support and land conservation.

According to the Congressional Research Service, previous farm bills provided loans to expand internet infrastructure, but for the first time in 2018 lawmakers also established project grants and raised minimum speed thresholds that define whether an area has sufficiently fast access. The previous download speed considered sufficient was 4 megabits per second, which has been increased to 25.

Xochitl Torres Small, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary for rural development, said establishing broadband access for as many rural residents as possible is a top priority that must be balanced with other priorities. projects that will enable speed improvements.

“We’ve certainly seen in the midst of COVID, with your kids sitting in the Hardee parking lot, that 25 (megabits per second) isn’t enough for them to be able to listen to their teacher and learn from home,” Torres Petit said.

Lawmakers also created the ReConnect program in 2018, which is separate from the Farm Bill’s Rural Broadband program but has similar goals, and states have implemented their own programs.

Missouri Governor Mike Parson has made expanded rural broadband a priority of his administration, proposing in his state of the state address this year $400 million for broadband access, including $250 million to reach around 75,000 homes without access to even moderately fast Internet connections.

Missouri Independent is part of States Newsroom, a grant-supported network of news outlets and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Missouri Independent maintains editorial independence. Contact editor Jason Hancock with any questions: [email protected] Follow Missouri Independent on Facebook and Twitter.

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