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National Grange praises Congress for broadband funding

“Congress has recognized the plight of rural Americans and the digital divide that separates them from the rest of the country.”

National Grange President Betsy E. Huber released a statement this week praising the inclusion of funding for broadband mapping in the $900 billion COVID relief package recently passed by Congress. The coronavirus crisis stimulus is included in a package that includes a spending bill that keeps the government funded through the end of September.

“Congress has recognized the plight of rural Americans and the digital divide that separates them from the rest of the country,” Huber said. “The $7 billion allocated in this bipartisan package for broadband deployment, including full first-year spending to upgrade broadband mapping of digital deserts that have plagued our rural landscape, shows our legislators understand just how important it is to locate those gaps and adequately invest to extend broadband to all.”

“This funding to implement the Broadband DATA Act will begin the process to improve the nation’s broadband mapping data, which can then target broadband expansion to unserved and underserved areas,” Huber said. “Launching the Broadband DATA Act is one more benchmark toward successfully reaching the last mile of rural America with distance learning, telemedicine, remote business and more.”

Congressman Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, said that the bill provides $635 million for the Rural Broadband ReConnect program, which Aderholt helped create and establishes a $300 million broadband deployment program at NTIA to support broadband infrastructure deployment to unserved areas, prioritizing unserved areas and areas that are more rural.

The fate of the combination COVID-19 relief and omnibus spending bill is uncertain after President Donald Trump objected to the bill, citing wasteful spending on foreign aid and objecting to the small size of the individual stimulus checks. The bipartisan package passed with more than enough votes to override the lame-duck president’s veto, but it’s unclear if congressional Republicans would be willing to override a presidential veto.

Without passing either an omnibus spending bill or a continuing resolution keeping the government funded, there will be a government shutdown of non-defense government agencies by midnight Monday.

Grange has a 154-year history of advocacy and service the Grange has provided to and on behalf of agriculture and rural America. Grange said that COVID has spotlighted the many inequities that rural Americans have faced for years or even generations.

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Grange said that rural broadband expansion, rural healthcare and education issues are what the Biden administration will need to focus on to address the concerns of rural individuals, Grange is a fraternal organization of farm families founded in 1867 after the Civil War when about 75 percent of the U.S. population lived on farms.

Today, the Grange is a fraternal, nonpartisan organization with about 150,000 members across the nation in about 1,700 local chapters. Open to anyone age 14 and older interested in agriculture, rural concerns or bettering their community, the Grange never endorses candidates but works on issues made policy of the organization through a grassroots vetting process.

Brandon Moseley is a former reporter at the Alabama Political Reporter.

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