Rural broadband deployment won’t succeed in closing the “digital divide” unless the agencies handling billions in funding coordinate better. That’s the collective sentiment of House Ag members. Ag Chair David Scott says “Effective communication” is the key to 100 percent rural broadband deployment using the historic Infrastructure and Jobs Act funding.
Scott; “And this is why we established procedures for interagency coordination among USDA, NTIA, and FCC in the 2018 farm bill. And we must continue to engage with each other to ensure effective communication.”
But different application procedures, data sets, coverage maps, and more have led to grant duplication or no help at all for underserved areas. Top Ag Republican GT Thompson complained Senators minimized USDA’s broadband role in the infrastructure bill but saved his loudest criticism for the FCC and NTIA.
Thompson; “I would be remiss if I didn’t share my utter disappointment and shock that representatives from the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration declined the invitation to testify today. Their absence is noted, and it illustrates their indifference to the needs of rural Americans and our rural communities.”
Leaving it up to USDA’s Rural Development chief Xochitl Torres-Small to answer the key hearing question; “It is the big question. 62 billion dollars is a huge investment, and the only way we reach the places we need to is if we coordinate. I’ll be very honest with you, it is hard. There are ‘silos’ as people are used to working within their agencies.”
But Torres Small claims things are changing, the agencies are helping each other with applications, outreach, and program timing to avoid overbuilding in areas already served. Though she says the challenge will grow as the states get more involved and use programs like USDA’s ReConnect or create their own programs.