Dear Chairman Bishop and Ranking Member Fortenberry,
As you consider Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations, we write to you to request $550 million for USDA's ReConnect Program and $350 million for the rural broadband loan and grant program authorized by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
Affordable broadband access is critical for the economic development of rural communities, enabling them to fully participate in the internet-based economy. It enables farmers to use precision agriculture techniques, patients to access medical care remotely via telemedicine, children to conduct research for school projects, and businesses to engage with customers. Yet, according to the FCC's 2018 Broadband Deployment Report, more than 30% of Americans in rural areas lack access to fixed terrestrial broadband at speeds of 25 Mbps/3 Mbps, compared to only 2% of Americans in urban areas.
In FY2018 and FY2019, Congress appropriated $600 million and $550 million, respectively, for a pilot broadband loan and grant program. This program was launched in December 2018 by USDA as the ReConnect Rural Broadband Program, and addresses one of the core recommendations of President Trump's Interagency Task Force on Agriculture and Rural Prosperity. In the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, better known as the 2018 Farm Bill, Congress authorized $350 million per year for a broadband loan and grant program. We are requesting funding for both of these programs: $550 million for the ReConnect Program and $350 million for the broadband loan and grant program authorized by the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.
These programs play a role in meeting the goal of broadband access for all Americans, and therefore we request that the ReConnect Program receive level funding at the FY2019 level and the Farm Bill-authorized program receive funding at the authorized amount. We believe that support for these programs is critical to address the "digital divide" and ensure that our rural communities have equal access to opportunity.
Thank you for your consideration of this request.