By Kristen Tribe | Published Saturday, May 5, 2018
Wise County’s pursuit of improved broadband service will possibly benefit rural areas across the country through the new Farm Bill, according to Congressman Mac Thornberry.
Thornberry met Wednesday with farmers and ranchers in Wichita Falls to discuss new elements of the Farm Bill as outlined by the House Ag Committee. It includes language that provides funding through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help pay for broadband studies in rural areas and to cover the “middle mile,” which is the space between main fiber lines and outlying areas.
Wise County, in partnership with the Bridgeport and Decatur EDCs, conducted a broadband study in 2017. It cost $46,000.
Wise County Judge J.D. Clark said he looked for financial assistance through federal rural development programs, but none was available. This led to conversations with Thornberry about the plight.
“We were lucky that we had two local EDCs to partner with,” Clark said, “but not all rural areas have that.”
Thornberry told the Messenger Thursday that he regularly checks in with Clark to see what the judge has in the works.
“He mentioned that Wise County spent the money to do a study on broadband to foster economic development and make sure the county isn’t left behind, but there were two problems,” Thornberry said. “There was no help from the government to do the study … he also said there are government funds through the Department of Agriculture for broadband, but nothing for that middle mile.”
The middle mile is a term used to describe the space between a main fiber line and potential points of connectivity located some distance away.
“It’s that middle mile that the Wise County study identified as the crucial missing factor,” Thornberry said.
For example, Clark said there’s high speed availability in northern Tarrant County, but at this time there are no lines to extend that service to Wise County.
Thornberry, who is head of the House Armed Services Committee, worked with his committee members who are also on the House Ag Committee, and they created the Farm Bill amendments tied to broadband infrastructure.
“It was directly because of what Wise County did and discovered that we were able to expand [the Farm Bill] to meet that need,” he said. “To me, this is a prime example of the way government is supposed to work across the different levels.
“I really appreciate the work from Wise County that went into it and the willingness to share their findings.”
Clark, who attended Thornberry’s meeting Wednesday, said he was pleased to see the Congressman take local concerns to heart.
“It’s encouraging that we can communicate something like that, and your member of Congress listens to it and it ends up in a bill,” the judge said.
Other changes to the House Farm Bill that were discussed with farmers and ranchers included items related to commodities and a work requirement for able-bodied food stamp recipients.
The House is expected to vote on the bill later this month. The Senate does not have a vote scheduled for its bill at this time.
Clark said the next step for Wise County is an update on the “big takeaways” of the broadband study, and then he will form a local broadband taskforce. The prospect of funding for potential projects may make local infrastructure goals more realistic.
View original article HERE.