Leahy Calls On USDA To Raise Minimum Broadband Speeds For Rural Vermont And Rural America

(WEDNESDAY, Feb. 10, 2016) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) on Wednesday sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, asking him to use his existing authority to raise the minimum broadband speed that determines funding eligibility for the Farm Bill broadband loan program.

Leahy’s letter follows his successful inclusion of report language in the Fiscal Year 2016 Agriculture Appropriations bill directing USDA to implement the broadband provisions of the 2014 Farm Bill, including the authority to review and raise the minimum speed established by the bill.  Leahy is a leading member and a former chairman of the Agriculture Committee, which handled the Senate’s work in writing the Farm Bill.

“Rural America continues to lag behind the rest of the country when it comes to broadband deployment,” Leahy said.  “Vermonters know that broadband is a necessity, not a luxury.  A rural broadband standard should reflect consumers’ needs and provide the capacity necessary for businesses and start-ups to grow and compete.”

Leahy cited recent data from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which found that only 53 percent of rural areas have access to speeds of 25 Mbps download, a measurement that is more than 6 times higher than the minimum standard set by the Farm Bill.  In contrast, the FCC found that 92 percent of urban areas have access to the 25 Mbps standard. 

The Farm Bill broadband loan program provides loans and loan guarantees to broadband providers that bring broadband service to rural areas.  The program prioritizes funding to areas that fall below the minimum standard established by the bill, which is currently set at 4 Mbps.  

A copy of the letter is available online

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