Connect Americans Now (CAN): Key Questions for USDA Nominee Vilsack on Bridging the Digital Divide

Press Release
January 28, 2021
Contact: Jon Conradi
[email protected]

Next Secretary of Agriculture Will Play Important Role in Federal Efforts to Expand Broadband, Support Precision Agriculture and Strengthen Rural Communities

Washington, D.C. – On Tuesday, February 2nd, the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry will hold a nomination hearing for former U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack to once again lead the department. Today, Connect Americans Now (CAN) executive director Richard T. Cullen released the following statement encouraging lawmakers and Secretary Vilsack to discuss key ways USDA can help close the broadband gap.

“USDA plays a critically important role in federal efforts to expand broadband connectivity, especially through the ReConnect Program,” stated Richard T. Cullen, executive director of CAN. “The next leader of this department must make closing the broadband gap a top priority in order to support the global competitiveness of America’s farmers and ranchers and strengthen the communities where they, and every American, live.”

“Ensuring USDA resources are maximized to reach as many Americans as possible will require a commitment to technology neutral deployment, allowing providers to utilize the most cost-effective solutions available in unique areas to connect the most unserved people,” Cullen added. “We encourage Senators and Secretary Vilsack to make his priorities and vision for USDA’s role in bridging the digital divide a top topic of discussion Tuesday.”

Key hearing questions for the USDA nominee pertaining to broadband connectivity could include:

  • The USDA’s ReConnect Program plays a critical role in providing funding for broadband deployments in unserved communities.
    • If confirmed, how important do you think it is for USDA to rapidly deploy ReConnect dollars to help expand broadband deployments in rural America, and do you believe Congress must allocate more money towards this program to help close the digital divide?
    • What principles do you believe should best guide ReConnect’s mission and grant application process?
  • In the CARES Act, Congress provided $100 million for ReConnect grants to support expanded broadband connectivity in light of the massive impact of the digital divide on unserved and underserved communities amid the pandemic.
    • Do you believe that broadband infrastructure funding must be included in any future COVID-19 relief and stimulus packages?
  • To completely eliminate the digital divide in the most rapid and cost-effective manner possible requires a combination of “wired” and “wireless” technologies, including fiber-based technologies and terrestrial and satellite fixed and mobile wireless technologies, leveraging a range of frequencies. A study conducted by Boston Consulting Group found a hybrid network approach to closing the digital divide, leveraging every solution in the nation’s toolkit, can reduce the cost by as much as 80 percent.
    • Do you believe funding mechanisms for broadband deployments and technology should be strictly technology-neutral in order to maximize their reach and positive impact for the public — so long as projects provide true broadband service for consumers?
  • Precision agriculture and remote monitoring technologies are increasingly essential for America’s farmers and ranchers to thrive and compete in the global marketplace — allowing agricultural producers to conserve resources while increasing yields.
    • Can you speak to the necessity of bridging the digital divide to support precision agriculture technology for America’s farmers and ranchers?
    • What do you believe is the role of wireless broadband technologies for the future of the “connected farm?”
  • What is your level of priority for eliminating the digital divide and what core principles would guide your approach to the issue of expanding broadband connectivity for unserved and underserved Americans as Secretary of Agriculture?

Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), the incoming chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, expressed her commitment to expanding broadband connectivity in a press release on top priorities Thursday.

“The Committee will work with the Biden Administration and prioritize investments to improve economic opportunities and quality of life in rural communities, including expanded high speed internet access,” Stabenow said.

CAN is a coalition of more than 275 organizations and companies representing voices for agriculture, health care, education, small business, technology, veterans, rural advocacy and more — committed to completely and swiftly eliminating the digital divide in America through an all-of-the-above approach.

Read more on CAN and our mission HERE.


Join our fight to bring broadband to all rural Americans. Tell Washington to take action to bridge the digital divide now!