Press Releases

Hagedorn: Empowering rural America through broadband investments

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Subcommittee on Underserved, Agricultural, and Rural Development is holding a hybrid hearing titled “Supporting Small Entities through Investments in the National Infrastructure: Broadband.”

Subcommittee Ranking Member Jim Hagedorn's opening statement as prepared for delivery:

Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Good morning to everyone and thank you to our witnesses, including my constituent Tim Waibel, for taking time to speak with us today.

As a Member of both the House Small Business Committee and Agriculture Committee, broadband infrastructure has been a top priority of mine since coming to Congress. According to USDA’s Census of Agriculture, nearly 20 percent of constituents in my district still do not have reliable internet access. Unfortunately, without reliable high-speed internet, many of my constituents and the rural businesses that they operate often are at a disadvantage. Under the previous Administration, significant investments such as the American Broadband Initiative were made to stimulate increased private sector involvement in broadband infrastructure and bridge the gap in rural America. However, despite significant advances, many rural and tribal areas still have limited or no access to broadband capabilities. The digital divide has only grown wider as broadband deployment in urban areas continues to outpace deployment in rural areas. Congress must work to find a solution to address the digital divide.

We can all agree that providing small businesses with the tools and resources necessary to thrive while examining policies to best help businesses get back on their feet is a priority. One way that we can ensure that we meet this goal is through better broadband connectivity, which has been found to be a key aspect in increased economic growth for rural businesses. In fact, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service, “broadband access and adoption in rural areas is linked to increased job and population growth, higher rates of new business formation, increased home values, and lower unemployment rates.”

Industries such as agriculture and healthcare, which are vital to rural America, have increasingly relied on broadband connectivity as technology capabilities has developed. Telemedicine has provided many benefits to rural communities during the pandemic and also has become a reliable way to ensure rural areas can receive adequate and timely healthcare without the need to travel. The continued expansion and modernization of telemedicine capabilities will be essential to ensuring rural communities have equal access to high quality care.

Additionally, many small business farmers and ranchers in my district have increasingly relied on technology as they seek to strategically decrease inputs, such as fertilizer and water, while simultaneously increasing yields. Without the availability of high-speed internet, they would not be able to keep pace with modern technology.

Programs such as the ReConnect Pilot Program, which was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, have helped build out broadband infrastructure in rural areas that lack broadband access. This has helped make significant advancements in broadband infrastructure in my district. I was proud to support additional legislative efforts in the CARES Act and Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 which appropriated more dollars for programs like ReConnect that have helped to make progress on closing the digital divide.

While I appreciate the Biden administration’s proposal to make additional investments in broadband and real infrastructure, their plan to prioritize investments in municipal broadbands is concerning. Today, 18 states have restrictions regarding municipal broadband networks. I worry that, given over one-third of our country has restrictions in place, this will lead to implementation issues and put rural America further behind.

Congress must ensure that further investments in broadband allow us to empower rural America through economic growth in order to remain competitive in an increasingly digital global economy. Legislative proposals, such as the Broadband for Rural America Act, are a step in the right direction and would help ensure greater coordination among all federal broadband deployment efforts while prioritizing progress in rural areas.

Mr. Chairman, I look forward to hearing the testimony of the witnesses today, and I look forward to working with you to ensure rural Americans continue to receive the investments in broadband infrastructure they need. I yield back.