Bipartisan legislation passes Senate, now goes to President for signature
Feb 04 2014
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Senate today passed the bipartisan Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2014, which includes U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner’s (D-VA) provision to protect federal funding to expand access to rural broadband. Senator Warner’s provision will help to ensure that broadband service reaches those who need it most by providing the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utility Service (RUS) with tools to better target available loans to unserved and underserved rural communities. Additionally, the Warner provision gives taxpayers a higher level of accountability and transparency in how the federal funds are spent. For almost a decade, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and the Inspector General at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have called for meaningful reforms to the RUS broadband programs.
“It’s an embarrassment that in America in 2014, there are still more than 18 million people without broadband access, and more than 75% of those customers live in rural areas,” Sen. Warner said. “I’ve been working with GAO and the IG at USDA on reforms for some time, and I’m glad that we’ve been able to have this language included in the bipartisan Farm Bill. When I was Governor, we launched one of the country’s largest rural broadband projects in Southside, and Virginians recognize that access to broadband helps spur economic growth and create jobs.”
“I am very pleased that Senator Warner's broadband amendments have been included in the farm bill,” said Virginia Secretary of Technology Karen Jackson. “The programmatic changes offer new opportunities for strategic targeting of resources into unserved areas and provide a more transparent process. We look forward to having Virginia providers in the Commonwealth participating in the program and closing our remaining unserved areas.”
Senator Warner’s amendment requires that at least 15 percent of households in a proposed project area be unserved or underserved. It also codifies the minimum acceptable level of broadband service as 4mbps download and 1 mbps upload. The provision also improves government accountability and transparency by enhancing reporting requirements in order to enable RUS and taxpayers to better assess the value of successful projects.
Senator Warner, a former technology entrepreneur and Virginia governor, has long championed broadband technology as a significant tool to extend economic development opportunities and increase the overall competitiveness of America’s rural areas. In 2012, two other Warner proposals to promote cost-effective expansion of broadband service moved forward through an Executive Order signed by the President. As Governor, Senator Warner worked with federal, state, local and private-sector partners to leverage Virginia’s tobacco settlement dollars to invest in building-out over 800 miles of fiber-optic broadband in Southwest and Southside, which helped to attract 2,200 jobs and $300 million in investment.