Industry Reps to House Ag: USDA Should Handle Rural Broadband

DanAgri-Business, Broadband, Legislative, Technology


by Sabrina Halvorson

Six representatives from the broadband and satellite industries testified at a House Agriculture Committee hearing Wednesday on the digital divide, or the lack of some digital services in rural America. Committee Ranking Member, Representative David Scott of Georgia, asked the witnesses if USDA was the right agency to handle the issue of rural broadband.

Jim Matheson
Chief Executive Officer

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association

“They know rural America. They prioritize issues that matter in rural America in their broadband funding in terms of rurality or low population density. That’s one of the criteria they look at. Look, this is important for these rural areas,” answered Jim Matheson, Chief Executive Officer of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “Internet service matters. Affordability matters. America’s electric cooperatives serve 92% of the persistent poverty counties in America. So, investments in broadband for these counties that have persistent poverty, it’s an opportunity for economic development to mean something in terms of looking forward in the future. I think the Department of Agriculture has the right perspective to do this.”

Representative Scott then presented the same question to Shirley Bloomfield, Chief Executive Officer of the NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.

Shirley Bloomfield
Chief Executive Officer of the NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association

“USDA understands rural America like nobody else,” she said. “No other federal agency understands the needs on the ground, and how important connectivity is for rural Americans who, frankly, suffer from the handicap of distance, whether it’s education, medical services, whether it’s tools for precision ag. There is no other agency that is more in tune with what rural America actually needs.”

The House Agriculture Committee hearing was titled “Closing the Digital Divide in Rural America” and also included the following witnesses: James Assey, Executive Vice President, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association; David Zumwalt, President and Chief Executive Officer, WISPA – Broadband Without Boundaries; Tom Stroup, President, Satellite Industry Association; and Bill Hurley, Chair, Agriculture Sector Board, Association of Equipment Manufacturers.

Tuesday, June 21, 2023 – 10:00 AM ET
1300 Longworth
Washington, D.C.
Full Committee
RE: “Closing the Digital Divide in Rural America”

Sabrina Halvorson
National Correspondent / AgNet Media, Inc.

Sabrina Halvorson is an award-winning journalist, broadcaster, and public speaker who specializes in agriculture. She primarily reports on legislative issues and hosts The AgNet News Hour and The AgNet Weekly podcast. Sabrina is a native of California’s agriculture-rich Central Valley.