A group of bipartisan senators is urging the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to open up its rural broadband funding program to more states suffering from a lack of internet connectivity.
In a letter to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue on Wednesday, the senators, led by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), accused the agriculture agency of placing arbitrary limitations around which rural areas are eligible to receive some of the USDA’s $500 million rural broadband fund, called ReConnect.
As it stands, the USDA program says certain rural areas cannot qualify for the fund if they previously received money from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for satellite service. But the senators say satellite service is not enough to fix the issue of the “digital divide,” and the USDA’s funds could have life-saving impacts for areas that do not have good Internet access.
“USDA can, and should, fix this,” the senators, including Sens. John Barasso (R-Wyo.) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), wrote. “USDA is neither statutorily required to eliminate FCC grant recipients from ReConnect eligibility.”
Congress established the USDA’s ReConnect Program, which furnishes loans and grants to improve broadband services in rural areas, in 2018. The senators pointed out that the USDA’s restrictions are “not required by law.”