Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler (MO-04) has introduced H.R. 5213, the Expanding Rural Access to Broadband Act, which makes necessary changes to existing Rural Utilities Service (RUS) telecommunications programs to ensure rural Americans aren’t left behind in the digital age.

RUS administers programs – including telecommunication services – that provide much-needed infrastructure to rural communities and plays a critical role in helping to expand economic opportunities and improve the quality of life for rural residents.

“While broadband internet deployment to larger cities across the country continues, nearly two-thirds of rural Missourians still lack access to this vital resource and are left with antiquated, incredibly expensive or non-existent internet access. This is unacceptable,” said Congresswoman Hartzler.

“I plan to work with Agriculture Chairman Conaway to include my provisions to expand rural broadband in the Farm Bill, which is expected to be released in the coming weeks. I will continue my work to improve the lives of all rural Missourians so they can experience the life-changing impact of quality broadband internet and raise their families in a place of their choosing while accessing top-of-the-line educational resources, receiving important telemedicine healthcare and enjoying every day streaming capabilities,” she said.

The Expanding Rural Access to Broadband Act modifies existing RUS loan programs to include loan guarantees in addition to direct loans. H.R. 5213 also requires RUS to report back to Congress on ways to incentivize private investment via the loan guarantee program and streamline the cumbersome application process. Finally, this bill also raises the current statutory baseline for broadband deployment programs under RUS. Current law sets a minimum standard of 4-megabits per second (Mbps) download and 1-Mbps upload, and this bill would increase the baseline to 25-Mbps download and 3-Mbps upload.

“We applaud Congresswoman Hartzler’s efforts to look towards the future for internet demands of consumers and help provide quality broadband to our smaller communities,” said Barry Hart, Executive Vice President of the Association of Missouri Electric Cooperatives. “We also need to incentivize private investment to these areas and ensure the technology being made available meets a standard that increases quality of life to these citizens and spurs economic development among businesses. Congresswoman Hartzler’s bill accomplishes this goal.”

--Congresswoman Hartzler serves on the House Agriculture Committee, which oversees the Rural Utilities Service (RUS) and has jurisdiction over the 2018 Farm Bill.