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House chairman proposes $50 billion for rural broadband

The government would spend $50 billion to assure broadband access throughout rural America under a bill sponsored by House Agriculture chairman David Scott, seven times the amount proposed by Republicans on the panel. Scott scheduled a committee vote on his bill for Wednesday.

“This bill will direct $50 billion toward critically needed infrastructure for rural broadband and also includes resources to ensure that this funding is used in a timely manner and accessible to rural communities with limited resources,” said Scott on Monday. Additional details of the bill, HR 4374, were not immediately available.

During a recent trip to Wisconsin, President Biden said 35% of rural families lack high-speed internet. The White House and a bipartisan group of senators are working on an infrastructure bill that would include $65 billion for bringing broadband service to all Americans. Rural America suffers a digital divide of lower internet usage and slower service speeds compared with metropolitan areas.

Rural lawmakers from both parties agree that broadband access must be expanded. Republicans on the House Agriculture Committee filed a bill, HR 3369, in May with $7.4 billion in grants and loans for rural broadband through fiscal 2023, when Congress is expected to write a new farm bill. Rural economic development is a routine part of farm bills.

Scott said earlier this year that he hoped to see a bipartisan broadband bill endorsed by the Agriculture Committee this year. However, Republicans are the only sponsors of HR 3369 and Scott filed his bill on Friday with no cosponsors.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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