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Reps. Cammack, Costa Lead Letter To USDA Sec. Vilsack Regarding The Rural Utilities Service’s Rural eConnectivity (ReConnect) Pilot Program

Press release from the Office of Rep. Kat Cammack

Today, Congresswoman Kat Cammack (R-FL-03) and Congressman Jim Costa (D-CA-16) led a letter with their colleagues to urge USDA Secretary Vilsack and the Department of Agriculture to ensure the ReConnect Pilot Program serves rural America and the underserved communities that need it most.

Established in 2018, the ReConnect Pilot Program has targeted rural areas where at least 90 percent of households lack broadband service, focusing its funding in necessary regions and making sure duplicative funding does not lead to overbuilding. Over the last several months, however, new guidelines for the program have raised concerns about overbuilding, the service areas, and shifting dollars away from those the program intends to serve. The letter requests the USDA carefully consider future rounds of ReConnect funding to make every effort to serve the communities who are not served by other broadband programs.

“I’m pleased to join Rep. Costa in leading this letter with my colleagues,” said Rep. Cammack. “Access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet in North Central and Northeast Florida remains a challenge, and ReConnect—designed to reach the communities most in need—is pivotal in achieving this goal. The last thing we need is more funding that does not meet the needs of those it aims to serve.”

The letter earned the support of the Internet and Television Association (NCTA) and the Rural Broadband Association (NTCA).

“The issues raised in Reps. Cammack and Costa’s letter to the USDA highlight critically important issues if America is going to complete its mission of connecting all communities with robust broadband service,” said the NCTA. “The concerns raised in the letter will lead to government funding being wasted on building second or third broadband networks in some communities while others wait at the back of the line. We thank all of the Members who signed for standing up for unconnected communities and raising these important issues. We urge the USDA to change its guidelines and do everything it can so that broadband funding is delivered where it is needed most—those communities without any service.”

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“Too many farms, homes, and businesses in Iowa do not have access to affordable, reliable broadband, which they need to live, work, and thrive. That needs to change,” said Rep. Randy Feenstra. “While the ReConnect Pilot Program has been successful at connecting rural communities to the internet, proposed changes by this administration threaten its original purpose by diverting funds from rural America to big cities. Our rural communities, families, and main streets deserve better, and I will continue to do everything possible to connect Iowans to the country and the world.”

“Bridging the digital divide is more important than ever as the agriculture industry and rural Americans struggle to keep up in a digitally-dependent age,” said Rep. Jim Baird. “Our producers need every resource available to them to help fulfill their critical work of feeding, fueling, and clothing our nation, and securing reliable connectivity is a key component. Ensuring that we provide complementary rather than duplicative funding for underserved communities so that we can prioritize the most underserved areas is essential in bridging the digital gap, which is why I joined Rep. Cammack in encouraging the USDA to make every effort to put unserved households and communities first.”

“Ensuring our rural communities in the Central Valley have reliable, high-speed internet is critical. The ReConnect program has played an important role, and should continue to do so, in funding broadband deployment to the most underserved communities like those in the Valley,” said Rep. David Valadao. “Funding from this program can have a positive impact all across our rural communities, including in schools, hospitals, on the farm, and more. USDA must take every step to ensure these funds continue to reach the communities that need them most.”

“We must expand access to broadband in New Hampshire and across the country and ensure every home, small business, and classroom is equipped with a fast, reliable, affordable connection,” said Rep. Chris Pappas. “High-speed broadband is a necessity for our communities and a prerequisite for our country to compete and lead in a global, 21st-century economy. That is why I joined a bipartisan group of my colleagues to call on Secretary Vilsack to ensure that Round 3 funds of the Rural eConnectivity (ReConnect) Program are adequately and appropriately targeted to areas in need.”

“Without reliable connectivity, those living in working in rural areas are left at a severe disadvantage compared to their urban and suburban counterparts,” said Rep. Troy Balderson. “We must ensure our rural communities have access to high-speed broadband internet as a means for leveling the playing field and fostering economic growth and investment in these communities.”

“The lack of high-speed internet is leaving rural Americans behind and deepening the digital divide. Broadband coverage is especially challenging in forested and mountainous areas, like the Sierra mountains in my district. The only way to guarantee every rural resident has access to high-speed connectivity is to make sure federal funds aren’t being duplicative to one area and are spread throughout rural America,” said Rep. Doug LaMalfa.

Original signees include Reps. Cammack, Costa, Al Lawson, Anthony Brown, Austin Scott, Barry Moore, Chris Pappas, David Rouzer, David Valadao, Deborah Ross, Doug LaMalfa, Dusty Johnson, G.K. Butterfield, Jim Baird, Jimmy Panetta, Julia Letlow, Kurt Schrader, Mary Miller, Michael Cloud, Randy Feenstra, Rick Allen, Rodney Davis, Salud Carbajal, Sanford Bishop, Tracey Mann, Trent Kelly, Troy Balderson, and Vicky Hartzler.

The full text of the letter may be found here.