Blue Dogs Call for Measures in Pending Infrastructure Bill to Ensure Rural Broadband Funds Go Where They Are Most Needed
Jun 2, 2021
Blue Dogs say rural America deserves access to same Internet speeds as urban, suburban communities
WASHINGTON—Today, members of the Democratic Blue Dog Coalition sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, calling for the funds to expand broadband in the pending infrastructure legislation to be flexible. This would ensure that broadband funds are delivered to areas of the country where they are most needed. The Blue Dogs also called for the legislation to ensure that internet delivered to underserved and unserved communities is not slower-tier than other parts of the country.
This follows lessons learned from the implementation of broadband measures included in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). For example, a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General found that the agency could have implemented certain broadband programs created by ARRA in a manner that focused more on rural residents.
The letter was sent under the leadership of Rep. Tom O’Halleran, Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition and Chair of the Blue Dog Task Force on Strengthening Rural America. In addition to Rep. O’Halleran, the letter was signed by the following Members: Reps. Sanford Bishop (GA-02), Ed Case (HI-01), Jim Cooper (TN-05), Jim Costa (CA-16), Vicente Gonzalez (TX-15), Josh Gottheimer (NJ-05), Stephanie Murphy (FL-07), Kurt Schrader (OR-05), Abigail Spanberger (VA-07), and Mike Thompson (CA-05).
SEE BELOW FOR THE FULL LETTER TEXT:
Dear Speaker Pelosi, Leader Hoyer, and Whip Clyburn:
Thank you for your continued support of efforts to reach a bipartisan deal on infrastructure. As you know, today’s economic recovery presents us with the opportunity to not only include rural America, but also ensure that these communities can continue to thrive for generations to come. This includes but is not exclusive to significant investment to expand access to high-speed internet. However, the success of this investment and others is contingent on measures to ensure taxpayer dollars go where they should and that funds are sent to areas of the country that are in need.
Lessons from recent history, such as the recovery from the 2009 financial crisis, can ensure we do right by rural and underserved communities. Although the data following that recovery indicated that the country overall saw economic improvement up until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the reality was that rural America did not see the same benefits as urban areas. This was, in part, due to a failure to deliver broadband to areas of the country where it was most needed. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General issued a report finding that the agency could have implemented certain broadband programs created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act in a manner that focused more on rural residents who lacked access to broadband. Specifically, the report stated the following: “the agency did not adequately ensure that broadband infrastructure projects funded by [Broadband Initiatives Program] actually provided access to rural residents who would otherwise lack access."
To avoid repeating these mistakes, the funds in an infrastructure bill to expand broadband must be sent where the need is greatest, and programs must have the flexibility to ensure that rural areas are not left out. In addition to providing flexibility, implementation should not translate to a slower-tier of internet access just for rural Americans. The best technology should not only be available in our cities and suburbs.
We were encouraged to see the Biden-Harris Administration recognize the importance of targeting unserved and underserved areas for broadband infrastructure funds under the American Rescue Plan. We hope that the upcoming infrastructure package will build on that success and that improved data collection can better target broadband investments in unserved and underserved communities. In our districts, we have seen firsthand how a continued lack of access to reliable high-speed internet created an insurmountable obstacle to success for rural residents that has been compounded by the COVID-19 crisis. A lack of high-speed internet affects the ability of businesses—including farms and ranches—to access domestic and international markets; it prevents families from receiving health care remotely through telehealth medicine, and students cannot get a quality education.
Throughout our nation’s history, both parties have recognized that innovation spurs the need to expand new infrastructure to rural America to keep our country at the cutting edge of international competition, such as rural electrification under President Franklin Roosevelt and the expansion of the interstate highway system under President Dwight Eisenhower. If done right in the current recovery, investment to bring every community online would be a major step to strengthen the rural economy, address the rural health care crisis, and empower rural workers all while strengthening the larger American economy.
Thank you for your time and consideration.