WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman John E. Peterson, R-Pleasantville, has recently lent his support to the Rural Broadband Improvement Act.
“Representing one of the country’s most sprawling districts, it has been a top priority of mine since I came to Congress to fight for the issues that affect America’s rural population,” said Peterson, the co-chair of the congressional rural caucus. “This vital legislation will increase access to affordable high speed internet, which continues to be one of the largest problems that folks in rural America face.”
The Peterson-backed bill — authored by South Dakota Congresswoman Stephanie Herseth Sandlin — would improve the Rural Utility Service Broadband Loan Program. The current law is designed to provide federal loans to areas of rural America that do not have service. However, due to a loophole in that law, some areas that are neither rural, nor suffer a lack of service, are eating up scarce resources – preventing the program’s focus from being on rural America as it should.
This bill would better define “rural” and “urban” areas to ensure loans are being used in truly rural communities and not suburban or urban areas. The definitions in this bill closely resemble the Census Bureau definitions of urban and rural.
Additionally, this measure ensures that loans would not be awarded to applicants proposing to serve areas that already have a broadband provider. Borrowers serving eligible communities that are at least 50 percent served will only be eligible for a RUS loan equivalent to the portion of households that remain underserved.
“The Agriculture Department’s Inspector General issued a report criticizing the RUS program. In the President’s budget, the Administration recognized that the program needs to be retargeted to rural Americans who need it most,” said Peterson. “But after five years since this program’s inception, precious dollars that could be used to bring high speed internet access to rural homes and schools across American continue to be misspent.”
This bill has been referred to both the House Agriculture and Energy and Commerce Committees, where it awaits further action. The Rural Broadband Improvement Act will be discussed in the context of the Farm Bill reauthorization this year.