Biden infrastructure law powers new program to connect rural areas to high-speed broadband
Residents of rural areas of GOP-led states are set to benefit from investments their representatives voted against.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Monday announced that it had approved grants and loans totaling nearly $700 million for 22 states and the Marshall Islands to connect rural residents and businesses to broadband internet services.
The agency said the funds would be directed to areas in the country that have historically had the most difficulty in providing high-speed internet services to residents.
“Thanks to President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, we are connecting rural communities to a global marketplace. These investments will support economic growth and prosperity for generations to come,” Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement.
While the legislation received some bipartisan support, a majority of the votes in favor of the bill in Congress came from Democrats. Nearly all the votes against the bill came from Republican members. Many states represented by Republicans who voted against the law will now benefit from the broadband expansion.
Grants and loans totaling over $75 million were announced for Missouri; the agency said 25,689 residents, 793 businesses and 1,754 farms would benefit. Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) voted against the bill and described it as a “radical left woke politics bill” in an August 2021 interview on Fox News.
Similarly, Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) voted against the legislation and called it a “massive $1.2 trillion tax-and-spend spree masquerading as an ‘infrastructure’ bill.” According to USDA, over $67 million in assistance is going to rural broadband in Oklahoma and will benefit 8,268 residents, 234 businesses and 418 farms.
The availability of broadband in rural areas has historically been low, and in a 2018 Pew Research Center poll 58% of respondents said high-speed access was a problem in their area. Access to broadband has been linked to increased job growth and business creation, according to a December 2020 report from the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
In addition to funding broadband expansion, the Biden administration announced in May 2022 that it had negotiated with internet service providers to reduce internet access costs for millions of subscribers.
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.
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