Senate Ag Committee Reviews Implementation of 2018 Farm Bill Rural Development Programs 

Farm Bill Hearing

VIDEO:  Hyde-Smith and Mississippi rural electric cooperative representative discuss rural broadband service.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Following a hearing to examine implementation of rural development programs in the 2018 farm bill, U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today said federal agencies need more cooperation as taxpayer dollars are spent to expand broadband access to rural areas.

Hyde-Smith, who serves on committees that authorize and fund U.S. Department of Agriculture rural development programs, made the assessment after receiving testimony from Keith Hayward, general manager and CEO of the North East Mississippi Electric Power Association.

“The 2018 farm bill and subsequent agriculture appropriations bills include significant resources to connect rural America to 21st century technologies, first of among them broadband,” Hyde-Smith said.

“Ensuring homes, farms, and businesses in rural Mississippi and elsewhere have internet access won’t be easy.  Today’s testimony indicates that effective investment of taxpayer dollars on this challenge will require federal agencies to collaborate more effectively.  There’s no need to make this harder than it has to be,” she said.

Hyde-Smith commended Hayward for his leadership and bid to qualify for a USDA Broadband ReConnect grant, a program intended to help build modern broadband infrastructure in rural areas lacking sufficient internet service.  Hayward told the committee of the difficulties and uncertainties his association encountered in complying with application requirements.

Responding to Hyde-Smith, Hayward also discussed competing requirements rules set by agencies with jurisdiction over rural electric cooperatives and rural telecommunications systems engaged in expanding broadband service.

“If we’re going to serve rural, unserved sparsely-populated areas, our structure is different than telecoms.  That has been demonstrated through some other utilities that are out there doing that, and we feel there needs to be a little bit more collaboration between the departments within the USDA,” Hayward said.

Testimony from the administrators of the Rural Utilities Service, Rural Business Service, and Rural Housing Service indicated ongoing efforts to issue updated rules regarding rural broadband programs and to coordinate with Federal Communications Commission and National Telecommunications and Information Administration.

In addition to supporting appropriations to support rural broadband initiatives, Hyde-Smith last week cosponsored the Revitalizing Underdeveloped Rural Areas and Lands (RURAL) Act (S.1032) to ensure tax-exempt cooperatives retain their tax-exempt status if they use government grants and assistance, including rural broadband grants and FEMA disaster relief.

The video and material from the Thursday Senate Agriculture Committee oversight hearing is available here.