President Biden plans to announce a plan to modernize US infrastructure in Pittsburgh on Wednesday. A dramatic expansion of the rural broadband network is expected to be part of the package. Broadband services are increasingly seen as essential to rural prosperity and even survival. The pandemic has increased the value of digital networks for schools, medicine and commerce.
“Right now, one in three Americans has no access to broadband and those who often have connections so slow that they are useless,” said Mike Stranz, vice president of the National Farmers Union. “Even as we turn back to face-to-face interactions, Internet connectivity will continue to be almost as important as and should be treated as other basic utilities.”
Groups like Rebuilding the Rural Coalition of Farmers’ Groups and Rural Enterprises include broadband, as well as traditional projects like roads, bridges, railways, water pipes and sewers on a wish list that extends to affordable housing and reliable electricity. “The level of investment required is staggering,” the coalition said in a letter to Biden last month. “Of course, the federal government must continue to play an important role in providing funding, and that federal investment should increase.”
During his campaign, Biden said he would “extend broadband or wireless broadband over 5G to every American”. Steps include $ 20 billion for rural broadband infrastructure, more grants for rural broadband projects, and federal support for communities looking to build municipal broadband networks.
Rural broadband has stayed on the president’s radar. The Biden Infrastructure and Economic Growth List includes “rural broadband expansion that would be transformative for these communities,” Axios reported last week.
Biden’s proposals could cost trillions of dollars. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Monday the president would propose a payment method for the infrastructure improvements. “But of course he believes that investing in our infrastructure and creating well-paid union jobs are paramount, but he also believes that we have the opportunity to use the balance – to tackle our tax laws, which are no longer valid of date and – and some could pay more in our country than is currently not the case. “
House Agriculture Chairman David Scott is planning a stand-alone rural broadband and infrastructure bill. “We have to be smart and develop rural broadband as the core of our rural development because if you don’t have rural broadband there, you won’t have the growth, the development that we need.” Scott said at the Ag and Food Policy Summit last week. He said the committee would hold a hearing on rural broadband in early April.