Letter to the Editor: Farm Bill can help bridge rural America’s digital divide

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Special to the
Opelika Observer

While the 2018 Farm Bill has stoked controversy over work requirements and agriculture subsidies (Senator Doug) Jones applauds passage of ‘Farm Bill’ that protects Alabama priorities, July 5) – one underappreciated area where the bill is an unqualified and widely popular success is its provisions to boost rural broadband.
Ensuring that all Americans have access to high-speed internet has been a bipartisan priority for years. This Farm Bill rightly focuses on getting more rural Americans connected to high-speed broadband networks.
The Senate version of the bill includes smart reforms to prioritize and better target taxpayer dollars to unserved rural areas. It takes lessons learned in recent policy experiments like the Omni Pilot Program by increasing the community participation threshold for “unserved” households to 90 percent, laser targeting limited funds to the areas most in need and ensuring that rural build out does its job.
The bill also adds a new grant process to run alongside the traditional rural loan model, providing a pathway to high speed internet for the most impoverished rural areas where loans may not be realistic.
Additional “good government” transparency, notice and challenge processes to will ensure policymakers act on up-to-date information and guard against waste, fraud and abuse.
Rural Americans know that broadband access changes lives. And the Senate version of the farm bill moves us towards universal access faster and with greater efficiency. There may be controversies in the farm bill, but the Senate rural broadband provisions aren’t among them.

Niel Ritchie
Main Street Project
League of Rural Voters

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