McCaskill Calls for Answers on Nationwide Rural Broadband Program That Approved Only Three Applicants

Following McCaskill request, U.S. Department of Agriculture releases data on Farm Bill’s rural broadband loan program

WASHINGTON - U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill is calling for answers after receiving data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture indicating that its nationwide rural broadband loan program received only 39 applicants since 2015, and of those, only three were approved. McCaskill requested the information from the agency last October. According to the most recent government data, 61 percent of rural Missourians do not have broadband access.

“Broadband access opens up doors for Missourians—from creating new opportunities for small business owners to helping families keep in touch,” McCaskill said. “I’m concerned that this new data shows it could be even tougher for companies to get the support they need to expand broadband access in rural communities in Missouri and across the country.”

Following a request from McCaskill, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided the Senator information on applications for the Rural Broadband Access Loans and Loan Guarantees program, which provides millions each year to support rural broadband. USDA reported that there were only 39 applicants since 2015—and only three were approved. 27 were deemed ineligible. McCaskill followed up with USDA today asking for details on why so many Rural Broadband Access Loans and Loan Guarantees applications were denied and what assistance the agency gives to companies interested in USDA rural broadband programs. “As you know, too many people lack crucial access to broadband services across the United States…[and] rural Missourians are disproportionately disadvantaged,” McCaskill wrote to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue. “The materials enclosed in your response raise new questions, and I write to request additional information to assist me in my ongoing oversight.”

McCaskill is a leading voice in the Senate for improving access to affordable, reliable forms of communication in small towns and rural communities. Last month, McCaskill called on the Federal Communications Commission to ensure broadband providers can deliver on rural service for Missourians, asking the agency to implement strong safeguards against waste and abuse as it prepares to award $1.98 billion in rural broadband funding in 2018. Following McCaskill’s call for Verizon to reverse course on its plan to drop nearly 8,500 rural customers nationally—including approximately 400 Missourians—from access to wireless broadband service within 30 days, Verizon announced it would allow affected customers who want to stay with Verizon to do so after changing service plans, and allow more time for those who wish to leave the carrier altogether to do so.

McCaskill has also backed bipartisan legislation to ensure Missourians in rural communities receive reliable and affordable phone call quality. Additionally, McCaskill introduced the Community Broadband Act to improve internet access in rural communities by protecting the rights of localities—which often face significant cost and other barriers—to build municipal broadband networks. McCaskill also held a roundtable in August at the Missouri State Fair with federal and local officials to discuss the importance of rural broadband. 

Read McCaskill’s letter to USDA HERE.

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