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Congressman Mark Pocan

Representing the 2nd District of Wisconsin

Pocan, Welch, Pingree Lead Bipartisan Letter Urging USDA to Increase Broadband Speeds in Rural Areas

Jul 8, 2016
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Last week, Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), and Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) led a bipartisan letter to Secretary Vilsack urging the Department of Agriculture (USDA) to update broadband speed definitions for the broadband deployment programs it oversees.

The Broadband Loan Program and Community Connect Program, within USDA, are both critical to providing much needed support for improving broadband networks in rural America. USDA recently increased the definition of broadband for the Broadband Loan Program to 10mbps download and 1mbps upload (10/1) capability, which is consistent with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Connect America Fund broadband requirement.

However, this increased speed requirement is in contrast to the recently updated 4/1 – from 3/1- broadband definition within the Community Connect Program at USDA. This inconsistency is unnecessary and problematic to ensuring the full potential of the Internet is realized in all urban and rural communities alike.

The letter has 28 bipartisan signers and has been signed by all 6 co-chairs of the Rural Broadband Caucus. It is also supported by the Rural Broadband Association and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

The text of the letter is below and a signed copy can be found here

Dear Secretary Vilsack:

We write to you today regarding the Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program (Broadband Loan Program) and the Community Connect Grant Program (Community Connect Program). Both of these important programs are a part of the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) within the Department of Agriculture (USDA). These initiatives provide much-needed support for enhancing broadband infrastructure in rural America, and we believe USDA can further enhance the impact of these programs by making eligibility adjustments that are within the authority delegated to you by Congress. In order to maintain the programs’ relevance in an age of rapidly increasing demand for bandwidth, we strongly urge you to consider updating their broadband speed definitions, particularly the Community Connect Program’s Minimum Broadband Service benchmark.

Broadband access is a vital link to a range of necessary services and resources for America’s rural residents. Not only is it an economic development tool for businesses that may be isolated from potential customers and employees, but it broadens educational horizons for students and offers healthcare providers flexible and cost-effective care-delivery approaches. Businesses, students, and patients are taking advantage of these connectivity-enabled opportunities, which have been facilitated by innovative tools in videoconferencing, distance learning, in-home health monitoring, and telemedicine, among other areas. As use of these services increases and drives growth in IP traffic—Cisco projects a 20 percent compound annual growth rate in the volume of IP traffic in the US through 2019 —federal policymakers must ensure that taxpayer-supported infrastructure is sufficiently robust to handle demand. It is not only a matter of fairness that rural Americans can fully utilize broadband-enabled resources, but also a matter of ensuring that taxpayers are receiving the full economic development return on their investments.

In order to keep USDA’s broadband infrastructure programs in step with current needs, Congress has delegated to USDA the ability to update speed definitions within both the Broadband Loan Program and the Community Connect Program. We therefore respectfully request that for future funding years you increase the Community Connect Program’s Minimum Broadband Service definition. Such a change will enable communities that are currently ineligible, but which nonetheless lack adequate service, to engage with RUS and providers to improve their connectivity. We also strongly encourage you to coordinate such changes with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) because that agency’s universal service programs are an important partner and complement to the work of USDA – it is essential that as USDA updates it speed definition, the FCC must ensure that its universal service programs keep pace.

Thank you for your attention to this request. We look forward to working with you as USDA continues the very important management of the Community Connect Grant Program and Broadband Access Loan and Loan Guarantee Program.

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