Mr. GIBSON. Mr. Chairman, I want to say to our chairman of the Agriculture Committee and to our staff, I deeply appreciate all the work on this farm bill. I am proud to have been associated with it.
I will say to the gentleman from Georgia, who just moments ago cited data from about a decade ago and then a report from 2009, I acknowledge the challenges with the program. However, as the gentleman mentioned, a couple of developments that have occurred are, first of all, implementation that has occurred just several months ago that addressed the points that were made in an IG report, and also the fact that in the underlying language--and I will thank the chairman--we incorporated other measures
that deal with transparency and clarification that were talking about unserved areas.
So I would say to the gentleman, and I appreciate him very much, but I want to tell you that this program is really important to districts like mine. The FCC claims that there are up to 19 million Americans who do not have access to high-speed broadband. The place that I represent in upstate New York, we've got many communities that don't have access to high-speed broadband. A program such as this has been helpful and will be helpful going forward.
I want to remind everyone--it is worth pointing out--that this is a loan program that is paid back with interest. This expanding broadband helps us not only with job creation, but it helps us with health care delivery, it helps us with education, and overall quality of life. I know that even in your own State this has been a program that has done some good, certainly needed reform, and has happened, reform has come about.
What I would say to the gentleman is I appreciate his concern for the taxpayer, I share that concern, and believe that we have made significant progress with regard to transparency, efficacy in the program, and want to see us continue this program because we need to move forward and continue to--just as we did with electrification for this country--to see all communities have access to high-speed broadband.
With that, I reserve the balance of my time.
Mr. GINGREY of Georgia. Mr. Chairman, at this time, I would like to yield myself such time as I may consume.
I remind my good friend from New York that Solyndra was a loan program, too, that was supposed to be paid back with interest. I offer this amendment because there is something better--there is something better.
I certainly understand and I appreciate the efforts taken by the chairman of the Agriculture Committee for creating further transparency with the RUS Rural Broadband Loan Program. However, despite these improvements, I am still incredibly skeptical of this program.
Mr. Chairman, since its inception, Congress has appropriated nearly $130 million in taxpayer dollars towards this program, and I feel that RUS has consistently missed the mark. On the other hand--and this is the alternative--in 2011, the FCC, the Federal Communications Commission, under existing statutory authority, fundamentally changed the nature of the Universal Service Fund and created the Connect America Fund with essentially the same goal as the Rural Broadband Loan Program. The Connect
America Fund is a different entity, and the FCC announced last month that $485 million of that fund, which is rooted not in increased taxes but in user fees, will be dedicated to unserved areas for broadband deployment.
Mr. Chairman, I do believe that the FCC is in a better position than the USDA to implement telecommunications policy, and over the life of the Rural Broadband Loan Program, USDA has only confirmed my cynicism.
The Acting CHAIR. The time of the gentleman has expired.
Mr. WITTMAN. I thank the gentleman from New York for yielding.
Mr. Chairman, I have the privilege every evening to travel back to the northern neck of Virginia. It's just an hour and a half from D.C., and that area is not served by broadband. We all know how important it is to have that service. Folks there are stuck with 1990s' technology--dial-up. If you've ever had to deal with that, you know how frustrating that is. We know for rural areas that economic development, job creation and educational opportunities are all tied to broadband access. Granted,
there may be challenges with the Rural Utilities Service program, but, nonetheless, those areas need that particular service. I want to make sure that they get that.
That's why I oppose this amendment, and I understand the gentleman's frustration with that. The RUS Broadband Loan Program does provide the needed leverage to fund construction. It also provides the ability to improve our systems in these areas and to acquire the facilities and equipment that are needed to provide broadband to these communities.
Folks, this is absolutely critical. This amendment, unfortunately, takes us away from that. I want to make sure that reforms are put in place so the system works, not taking away that opportunity for our rural areas.
Mr. GARAMENDI. I thank my friend from New York.
I thought it so very unfair that the majority party would be fighting this out without somebody from the minority party jumping in in opposition to the proposal.
I am delighted that the FCC has provided $400-plus million for what is a very essential service. I am also very happy that the Department of Agriculture continues with the program in which they have a unique ability to reach out to these rural communities. The Department of Agriculture has the men, the women and the organizational structure to provide direct access and direct service. Perhaps--just perhaps--the Department of Agriculture program, together with the FCC program, might actually get
the job done. It's very, very important.
Mr. BEN RAY LUJAN of New Mexico. Mr. Chairman, I yield back the balance of my time, and I thank everyone for their help on this.
The Acting CHAIR. The question is on the amendment offered by the gentleman from New Mexico (Mr. Ben Ray Lujan of New Mexico).
The amendment was agreed to.
The Acting CHAIR. It is now in order to consider amendment No. 11 printed in part B of House Report 113-117.
AMENDMENT NO. 12 OFFERED BY MR.
The Acting CHAIR. It is now in order to consider amendment No. 12 printed in part B of House Report 113-117.