WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Representative Abigail Spanberger’s bipartisan amendment to increase federal rural broadband infrastructure funding by $55 million was included today in a key House appropriations package, which will be voted on by the full House in the coming days.
Spanberger successfully led the fight to include the amendment in this appropriations package as part of her continued focus on expanding rural broadband infrastructure across Central Virginia’s rural communities. The Congresswoman’s amendment would increase funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) ReConnect Loan and Grant program, which partners with rural communities and businesses to expand high-speed internet infrastructure and increase e-Connectivity in rural and underserved areas.
Earlier today, Spanberger spoke on the floor of the U.S. House to urge her colleagues to support this amendment. Click here to watch her full remarks, which included stories shared by Central Virginians.
“In Central Virginia, expanding high-speed internet access is a unique chance to level the playing field for our rural communities. As I meet with families and community members across our district who lack reliable broadband internet, I’ve heard from working families struggling to access online healthcare resources, farmers falling behind in monitoring market fluctuations and online auctions, and students finding it difficult to finish their homework assignments. To start bridging this digital divide, we need to make sure broadband internet improvements are a part of our national conversation about infrastructure,” said Spanberger. “Today, I’m proud to lead this bipartisan effort to provide greater connectivity in more rural communities. This $55 million increase in ReConnect funding would help our rural communities attract new businesses, maintain economic growth, and give our children an equal opportunity to succeed in a global, hyper-connected economy. I’ll continue to lead the charge to strengthen support for rural broadband access in Central Virginia, because we shouldn’t accept the current broadband gap as the status quo.”
In the first round of ReConnect Program grant applications this year, USDA saw a nearly 3-to-1 ratio in applications submitted compared to federal funding available. To help address this clear demand for increased funding, Spanberger led this effort to increase ReConnect funding, worked with the House Appropriations Committee to identify cost offsets that would not negatively impact USDA, and gathered a bipartisan group of 12 additional Democrats and Republicans to announce their support for the amendment.
“Investments in rural broadband create economic opportunities, improve education and health care services, and connect communities,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey. “Thanks to Congresswoman Spanberger’s hard work and tireless advocacy, our fiscal year 2020 appropriations bills include significant funding to deliver the promise of broadband to communities in Virginia and beyond. I look forward to continuing to work with Abigail to deliver results for the people, so that Virginians and every American can have a better shot at a better life.”
Fiscal year (FY) 2019 funding for the ReConnect Program currently sits at $550 million, which the House Appropriations Committee had maintained at level funding in its version of this FY 2020 appropriations package. However, Spanberger’s amendment would now increase this amount to $605 million. This 10 percent increase would allow more communities in Virginia and across the country to receive the funding they need to improve regional access to broadband.
“Broadband is no longer a luxury, it’s a necessity. The American Farm Bureau Federation thanks Rep. Spanberger for her leadership and commitment to close the digital divide,” said RJ Karney, Congressional Relations Director, American Farm Bureau Federation. “The USDA ReConnect program greatly benefits farmers, ranchers and rural communities by providing these rural communities with broadband connectivity.”
According to the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, one in four rural Virginians lacks access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps. This digital divide can lead to consequences that impact educational and economic opportunities in rural America. For instance, according to an Associated Press analysis of U.S. Census data, an estimated 17 percent of U.S. students do not have reliable access to computers at home—and 18 percent of all students do not have access to broadband internet.
Spanberger’s amendment is cosponsored by U.S. Representatives Cindy Axne (D-IA-03), Emmanuel Cleaver, II (D-MO-05), Angie Craig (D-MN-02), Abby Finkenauer (D-IA-01), Jared Golden (D-IA-02), Ron Kind (D-WI-03), Susie Lee (D-NV-03), Denver Riggleman (R-VA-05), Robert C. “Bobby” Scott (D-VA-03), Chris Pappas (D-NH-01), Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ-02), and Peter Welch (D-VA-AL).
Since arriving in the U.S. House, Spanberger has worked to expand high-speed broadband internet access across Central Virginia’s rural communities, including by:
- Fighting for strengthened funding for rural broadband internet infrastructure in the communities that need it. Earlier this year, Spanberger led a bipartisan effort urging key House Appropriations Committee members to boost funding for rural broadband internet infrastructure—including through the ReConnect Program. And Spanberger also introduced and passed an amendment to improve FCC broadband internet data—and she articulated the need for improved FCC maps on the floor of the U.S. House, particularly as it impacts the eligibility of Central Virginia communities for federal funding.
- Working to collect the stories of Central Virginians and to learn how insufficient broadband internet access negatively impacts them. Earlier this year, Spanberger launched her 2019 Rural Broadband Survey to help identify some of the high-speed internet connectivity challenges facing Central Virginians.
- Bringing the eConnectivity concerns of Central Virginians directly to USDA leadership. During her first House Agriculture Committee hearing, Spanberger asked USDA Secretary Perdue about his thoughts on expanding rural broadband. Spanberger also invited Secretary Perdue to visit her district to hear directly from Central Virginia farmers and dairy producers, and get their feedback on current USDA policies and 2018 Farm Bill implementation. He accepted her invitation. Click here for a full video of her remarks.
- Working with colleagues to find common ground on rural broadband policy. Last month, Spanberger announced her appointment to a new task force focused on expanding high-speed internet access in rural communities. The House Task Force on Rural Broadband will provide coordination and leadership to increase investment in rural broadband internet infrastructure across the United States, and it will operate under an overarching goal to make sure all Americans have reliable access to high-speed internet by 2025. And as Co-Chair of the Blue Dog Coalition’s rural opportunity task force, she co-authored an op-ed in Fox News to highlight the need to pursue smart, bipartisan rural broadband infrastructure policies.