U.S. Senate passes bill with funds for broadband expansion in high needs areas like St. Lawrence County
Thursday, August 16, 2018 - 9:35 am

The Agriculture Appropriations bill that recently passed the Senate includes $425 million for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service’s broadband grant-loan pilot program, which is modeled after Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand’s bipartisan Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Program (B-CROP) Act. The money will be used to help expand access to high-speed broadband internet service in high-need areas like St Lawrence County.

This appropriations bill also includes $53 million for the USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program, which will be used to provide telemedicine grants in rural communities. Specifically, $20 million of this funding will be used to help rural communities address the opioid crisis.

“Internet access has become one of our most basic necessities, yet some rural communities still don’t have access to this essential technology,” said Gillibrand. “People, schools, hospitals, and businesses all rely on high-speed internet to succeed at work and have a good quality of life. Broadband technology can also provide a lifeline to communities battling the opioid crisis. I was proud to fight to make sure that this critical assistance was included in the just-passed spending bill, and I will continue to work in the Senate to make sure that our communities have the tools they need to stay connected.”

Nationally, over a third of rural Americans and 41 percent of tribal residents lack access to broadband. The newly passed spending bill provides $425 million for a USDA Rural Utilities Service (RUS) grant-loan pilot program, created in last year’s omnibus appropriations bill, which would provide much-needed investments in improving broadband service in rural and tribal areas.

The new grant-loan RUS program, modeled after Gillibrand’s bipartisan B-CROP Act, encourages more high-speed broadband to be installed in high-need areas by awarding grants, in combination with current USDA loan funding, to high-need rural and tribal areas.

Under the legislation, grants can cover up to 50 percent of a project’s cost, or up to 75 percent of costs in remote, high-need areas.

The $425 million in additional funding included in the just-passed Agriculture Appropriations bill brings total funding for this critical program to over $1 billion.

In addition, the spending package also includes $53 million for the USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program, which helps rural communities improve their education and medical services through investments in better internet service and other technologies.

The grants can be used to purchase equipment such as transmission facilities, audio equipment, interactive video equipment, and computer hardware, as well as technical assistance for eligible equipment, helping to expand the resources available for rural communities.

Specifically, $20 million of this funding will be provided to communities that are combatting the opioid crisis.