Industry Groups Want 100 Mbps Symmetrical Broadband Speed in 2023 Farm Bill

If provider associations are successful in their advocacy, the next Farm Bill will end the need for ReConnect broadband funding to be reappropriated every year.

Representatives from NTCA—The Rural Broadband Association and WTA–Advocates for Rural Broadband discussed their hopes and expectations for the bill in a session at the Oregon Telecommunications Association annual meeting in Bend, Oregon last week.

The ReConnect program covers some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved areas.

“ReConnect will move into the Farm Bill as an authorized program rather than as a Congressionally appropriated program,” predicted Derrick Owens, WTA CEO, in the session. “We want to make sure it’s a permanent program, not an appropriated program, moving forward.”

Farm bills are an every-five-year occurrence and the current bill is due to expire later this year, Owens explained.

“If it doesn’t get passed this year, basically we revert to 1967 rules and regulations,” he said. “There’s going to be a very strong interest to get this done before the end of the fiscal year, which is September 30..”

Fortunately, the farm bill typically has bipartisan support and usually passes both chambers, noted NTCA Director of Government Affairs Virdina Gibbs, although she cautioned that some members could hold up the process.

One of NTCA’s priorities for the Farm Bill is “no provider preference based on corporate structure,” Gibbs said.

Some policy makers want to give preference to community-owned operators or public-private partnerships. But as Gibbs reminded the small rural broadband providers at the OTA meeting, “You all know what your communities need.”

NTCA’s message to federal legislators has been to emphasize members’ strong roots and track records in their communities, she said.

Owens added that WTA has been encouraging those involved in crafting the next farm bill to prioritize fiber deployments, rather than focusing on minimum speed requirements, which continually change.

Of fiber, he said, “We realize it can’t and shouldn’t go everywhere, but where you can build fiber fiscally responsibly, you should be doing that. . . Not locking into technologies that will be scalable for the future only means that we will have to go through these processes again. You have to have fiber as far out in the network as possible.”

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