Every five years, Congress renews its priorities to agriculture and rural America by passing a farm bill with all the rural development and agriculture programs under the purview of USDA. The existing legislation funded programs through 2018 and the clock was literally ticking as the 115th Congress winds down here in Washington, D.C. A collective sigh went out this afternoon as an agreement was reached and the Senate passed the 2018 Farm Bill Conference report by a vote of 87-13 with the House scheduled to vote tomorrow.
NTCA was quick to congratulate the Agriculture Committee leaders and Farm Bill Conference members for finishing the difficult work of reaching a compromise on the Farm Bill. After Congress made a significant investment in rural broadband in the Fiscal Year 2018 omnibus, the Farm Bill Conference report further demonstrates that elected officials appreciate the difficulty of delivering robust broadband in rural areas and will work to provide the necessary resources to promote and sustain deployment. The nearly 850 members of NTCA—all of whom offer fixed broadband in the nation’s highest-cost areas—especially appreciate the substantial new grant program in the bill and the pains drafters took to ensure those resources won’t duplicate the work of other federal programs and private deployment efforts. NTCA strongly supports the Farm Bill Conference report, appreciates the leadership shown on supporting rural broadband, and encourages Congress to pass the agreement as soon as possible so providers can begin putting the resources toward improving broadband service for rural Americans.
The measure now moves to the other side of the Capitol where passage is anticipated tomorrow. The RUS team will certainly be busy in the coming days implementing both the pilot program approved earlier this year by Congress with broadband initiatives, along with this new additional support. I remain hopeful that this rural broadband momentum, along with our efforts earlier this year in working with USDA on a nationwide E-Connectivity tour, will carry into the Congress ahead!