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Gillibrand urges funds for rural broadband

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks May 7, 2018, at the Adirondack North Country Association office in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Peter Crowley)

On Tuesday U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand urged the U.S. Department of Agriculture to release $100 million in rural broadband funding, saying the coronavirus pandemic has exacerbated the broadband gap as millions of families adjust to a new normal of online learning, work and health care.

Gillibrand called on President Donald Trump’s administration to use the $100 million in funding for federal grants administered through the USDA ReConnect program under the CARES Act, in order to prioritize and expand rural communities’ access to broadband.

The press release cites the Federal Communications Commission’s 2019 Broadband Deployment Report, which found that over 25% of rural Americans are without access to fixed terrestrial broadband at quality speeds, compared to 1.7% of Americans living in an urban environment.

“It’s disappointing, and frankly unacceptable, that the administration has yet to invest hard-won funding for rural broadband infrastructure that Congress guaranteed in the CARES Act,” Gillibrand wrote in the press release. “Because of the administration’s inaction, New Yorkers have been trying to do the impossible and get by in the era of COVID without access to broadband in their homes, relying instead on free public Wi-Fi or limited satellite internet.”

The release states that “more than 338,000 families in New York State lack broadband, which makes connecting to the internet far too difficult, especially in rural and native communities.”

“While Congress fought to include an additional $100 million to the USDA ReConnect Broadband program for grants in the CARES Act, months later the Trump administration has spent only a small fraction of that money,” the release says.

In a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, Gillibrand, alongside Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., urged the USDA to expedite spending of ReConnect program funding.

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