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House bill proposes more than $7 billion for rural broadband

More than 20% of rural Americans lack access to high-speed internet service, says the Center for Rural Innovation.

Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee on Thursday proposed a three-year program with $7.35 billion in funding to bring broadband access to rural America. The bill would focus on the most remote and least served areas.

More than 20% of rural Americans lack access to high-speed internet service, says the Center for Rural Innovation. It says the Great Recession and the pandemic have exacerbated the digital gap between urban and rural residents. “Rural America represents 15% of the nation’s workforce but only 5% of the digital economy workforce,” the center’s founder, Matt Dunne, said this week.

President Biden included $100 billion for broadband access for all Americans as part of his infrastructure package. At a House Agriculture Committee hearing last month, internet executives said it would cost at least $60 billion to fill in the broadband gaps in rural America.

The legislation announced by Republicans on the committee would expire in 2023, the same time that a new farm bill is due. The GOP bill would codify the existing USDA ReConnect program, which provides grants and loans to deploy broadband in areas with poor service.

A summary of the bill is available here.

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