01.29.19

Sen. Capito seeks to extend rural-broadband program deadline

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The partial federal government shutdown might be over, but its impact still is being felt. 

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., cited the shutdown Tuesday in seeking a one-month extension for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new ReConnect program. 

The pilot program’s goal is to build out broadband infrastructure in rural America, Capito wrote in a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. 

USDA officials are making available up to $600 million in loans, grants and loan-grant combinations for the initiative, she said. They were slated to close the application window Feb. 22, but that might not be the best approach due to the recent shutdown in which “agencies have not been working at full capacity,” she said.  

“The ReConnect program is a critical new tool that will help achieve our shared goal of prioritizing rural broadband and closing the digital divide,” Capito, R-W.Va., said in her letter. “Timely technical-assistance webinars and workshops are imperative to informing potential applicants, especially for a new pilot program.” 

Extending all program deadlines by a month is in everyone’s best interest, she said. 

“An extension will help ensure applicants are receiving the assistance they need and the awards are being given to projects that achieve the program’s goals,” she said. 

Capito, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, helped secure funds in the fiscal 2018 budget for the program, according to a Dec. 13 announcement. 

West Virginia is expected to benefit from the program, she wrote in the letter. 

“Without access to reliable and affordable high-speed internet, rural communities and rural states, like West Virginia, are being left behind when it comes to education, health care, job creation and retention, and overall economic potential,” Capito wrote. 

“The projects funded by these grants will help communities with fewer than 20,000 residents, like many communities in West Virginia, without broadband service or where service does not have sufficient broadband access, defined as 10 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 1 Mbps upstream.”


By:  Jenni Vicent
Source: Herald-Mail Media