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New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand pushes for expansion of rural broadband program

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (file)

New York U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is calling for full funding of the rural broadband program, an effort regional officials say is needed.

The Democrat recently outlined her efforts to fully fund the USDA’s Rural Broadband Program at $350 million in the 2023 federal budget.

“Across the country. 17.3% of Americans in rural areas don't have access to reliable broadband, compared to only about 1% of Americans in urban areas. Without adequate access to high speed internet business owners are isolated from new markets, students can't attend school workers have fewer opportunities for good paying jobs and health care providers can't provide their patients with the best possible care.”

Gillibrand says she has made broadband and reliable internet access a priority since she entered Congress. She noted a provision she included in the 2018 Farm Bill to make grant funding available for rural broadband projects in high need areas. She also advocated for prioritizing broadband in the American Rescue Plan Act, which provided more than $7.1 billion for such expansion nationally.

“In order to close the pervasive digital divide Congress must do our job for rural Americans. Senator (Roger) Marshall (R-KS) and I are sending a letter calling for the full $350 million for USDA’s Rural Broadband Program for fiscal year 2023. Access to reliable high speed internet is essential to nearly every aspect of modern life. We owe it to every American to ensure that we are able to make use of this critical resource and are not locked out of opportunities simply because of where they live.”

One of the challenges in providing full broadband service is building out the so-called last mile. Gillibrand says full funding of the Rural Broadband Program addresses that access gap.

“This legislation will provide grant funding for any community, any government, any local entity that is willing to apply for the money exactly for the last mile. So any place that the private sector won't cover rural broadband, these grants will cover.”

Democratic Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman says the pandemic highlighted the need for high speed internet access in all areas.

“In the more rural parts of our community it’s not the last mile – it’s the last five miles. This is a necessity. We’ve known about the need for a long time. Funding is a critical component to getting to the finish line and we need stronger infrastructure in every corner of the United States. And we need to think about how do we do business, how do we learn and how do we grow and develop and stay competitive in a global society? Because if you’re not there on the other end of your broadband you don’t exist, not even in your home community. You don’t exist in the world.”

Senator Gillibrand said while $350 million has previously been authorized by the USDA for broadband grants, the program has not been fully funded.

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