Opening Statement: Republican Leader Glenn "GT" Thompson Full Committee on Agriculture Hearing: "A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Broadband"
Washington, September 15, 2022
Remarks as prepared for delivery:
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
As we have heard across multiple hearings this Congress, the need for better broadband connectivity in rural America is immense. In the past, I have talked about the checkerboard of connectivity in my home state of Pennsylvania, with some communities well served, while their neighbors—sometimes just down the street—struggle to download their emails.
While broadband access used to be a luxury, today, internet connectivity is essential for performing daily activities. Life is increasingly conducted more and more through the internet, and modern living requires constant, reliable internet access to fully participate.
To address this need, the federal government has committed tens of billions of dollars over the past 15 years to fund new broadband systems across the country. The Bipartisan Infrastructure bill alone provided a staggering $42 billion for broadband infrastructure just last summer. Today, multiple federal agencies—including USDA, NTIA, the FCC, and Treasury—are each individually responsible for distributing billions in broadband aid under their purview.
Coordinating the distribution of these funds is essential. Far too often, we’ve seen huge appropriations become insufficient through wasteful spending, inadequate oversight, and poor planning. It will take a concerted effort between USDA, NTIA, and the FCC to ensure these taxpayer funds do not meet a similar fate.
I remain disappointed that USDA was largely excluded from playing its essential role in bringing broadband and its unparalleled understanding and reach into rural communities. It is the best situated agency to help rural providers serve their communities. Yet, my colleagues in the Senate made a different choice, choosing instead to create a new series of programs. So, in addition to focusing on coordination, we must also ensure these new programs are accessible, efficient, and effective for rural service providers. As these new agencies wade into the difficult work of bridging the digital divide, it is critical they focus on the unique needs of rural communities.
Thank you, Madam Under Secretary, for again being with us to talk rural broadband. I have always appreciated the work RUS does for our rural Americans. And thank you to our witnesses on the second panel. I look forward to hearing from each of you.
I would be remiss if I did not share my utter disappointment representatives from the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration declined our invitation to testify today. Their absence is noted and illustrates their indifference toward the needs of rural Americans.
Mr. Chairman, I appreciate that you and I have been able to advance bipartisan legislation to bolster USDA’s broadband programs. I look forward to working with you on the upcoming Farm Bill to continue our work in strengthening rural connectivity.
I yield back.