The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that was recently passed by the U.S. Senate includes $65 billion to support improving broadband access. It will now move to the House of Representatives where it is expected to be taken up sometime in the Fall. The legislation specifically allocates $2 billion for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to build out broadband support in rural areas. A total of $42.45 billion is designated to go to individual state projects, funded through the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) at the Commerce Department.
Additionally, the legislation allocates $1 billion for the development of Middle Mile projects. A total of $600 million will also be provided for state Private Activity Bonds specifically for rural broadband improvements. Many rural and agricultural organizations were supportive of the recent Senate action, after calling for improvements to broadband access for some time.
In his weekly column, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall highlighted several farmers’ specific internet challenges they struggled through during the pandemic. Duvall also referenced a study from Broadband Now which found that 42 million Americans are going without high-speed broadband internet. With farming technology continuing to advance, the importance of high-speed internet access becomes critical. Farmers and ranchers routinely adapt to new production practices and technologies, however, the adoption of smarter farming equipment is governed by the availability of broadband connectivity. Duvall stressed the importance of broadband access as being imperative for keeping American farmers and ranchers competitive.
The issue of broadband access has been a significant priority for the Biden Administration. In unveiling the American Jobs Plan, President Joe Biden called for up to $100 billion to improve broadband infrastructure. Prior to that, multiple federal agencies entered into an agreement to help facilitate the provision of high-speed internet to underserved areas. The Federal Communications Commission, USDA, and NTIA will be working together for a more coordinated approach to improving broadband services.