Broadband Provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Friday, March 15, 2024

Digital Beat

Broadband Provisions in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024

On March 9, 2024, President Joe Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2024 (H.R. 4366) legislation that funds, through September 30, departments and agencies of the Federal Government covered by six appropriations bills. Here we look at broadband-related funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA). 

USDA Broadband Programs

Through H.R. 4366's  Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, Congress provides the USDA a total discretionary allocation of $26.228 billion, which is $2.67 billion (9%) below the President’s Fiscal Year 2024 (FY24) Budget Request. The legislation prioritizes USDA agencies and programs that protect the U.S. food and drug supply; supports America’s farmers, ranchers, and rural communities; and ensures low-income Americans have access to nutrition programs. The law also appropriates additional federal spending to support three USDA broadband programs: 1) the ReConnect Loan and Grant Program, 2) the Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants Program, and 3) the Community Connect Program.


For FY24, Congress sets aside $100,385,000 for the ReConnect Loan and Grant Program which furnishes loans and grants to provide funds for the costs of construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities and equipment needed to provide broadband service in eligible rural areas. In 2022, Congress appropriated over $363 million for ReConnect. As in the last funding round, Congress has earmarked some projects for funding, this year totaling $10.385 million.

  • Rep. Kevin Kiley (R-CA-3) helped secure $4,224,000 for the Plumas-Sierra Rural Electric Co-Op to construct middle- and last-mile fiber optic networks to rural residents in the A-15 and Valley Ranch areas. This project will be providing reliable, high-speed broadband services to rural residents, enabling access to online education, telemedicine, remote work, and supporting local economic development, while also enhancing emergency personnel communications capabilities.
  • For Le Sueur County (MN), Rep. Angie Craig (D-MN-2) and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Trina Smith (D-MN) helped win a $1 million award for the construction cost-share of broadband projects with internet service providers. The project will help support this disconnected, rural community by laying the groundwork for county-wide broadband connection, spurring economic development. 
  • With the help of Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT), a $150,000 Reconnect award will go to Anaconda-Deer Lodge County, a consolidated county-city government that currently has no access to broadband infrastructure. The funding will go towards the installation of dedicated fiber infrastructure connecting nine county government sites. 
  • At the request of Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-NC-11), USDA will award $1 million for broadband expansion in Haywood County, NC.
  • Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR-1) and Sens Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) helped secure $1 million for Three Rivers Fiber Broadband in Tillamook County. The funding will help build 7.24 miles of middle-mile fiber optic broadband infrastructure to expand access to 332 homes, supporting connectivity, cell towers, and public safety communications efforts for what is a cellular dead zone.
  • Rep. Andrea Salinas (D-OR-6) requested $1 million to expand broadband internet in Sherwood. OR to improve economic development, health care, and education access in the area. The City of Sherwood has been working with Salinas’ office to help secure funding to help construct roughly 40 miles of fiber cable that would pass through 10 rural communities including portions of Sherwood. For almost two decades, the city has operated a municipal internet service provider Sherwood Broadband.
  • Rep. Dan Meuser (R-PA-9) requested $1 million for PA's Central Bradford County Economic Development Authority.
  • Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-VA-02) requested $286,000 for the Eastern Shore of Virginia Broadband Authority (ESVBA) Broadband Expansion Project. ESVBA will build approximately 10.1 miles of fiber across several challenging areas to serve the residents of Custis Neck, Folly Creek Club, Henrys Point and Locustville. This funding will provide these rural communities with much-needed wireless and connectivity services and upgrades.
  • Rep. Jennifer McClellan (D-VA-4) requested $725,000 for the Henrico County Universal Broadband Deployment Project to extend fiber-to-the-home infrastructure to 412 serviceable units.

ReConnect awards must focus on areas where at least 90 percent of the households lack access to networks that can offer internet access with speeds of at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. The networks built with ReConnect awards must be capable of providing service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream. Awards cannot be used in areas of previous USDA broadband loans unless the previous grantee is not providing 25/3 service. 

Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants

USDA's Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grants Program helps rural residents tap into the enormous potential of the internet to improve education and health care, two of the most crucial keys to successful rural economic and community development. In the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2023—signed by President Biden in December 2022—Congress set aside nearly $65 million for telemedicine and distance learning services in rural areas. For the remaining months of the fiscal year, Congress has appropriated roughly $49.6 million of which about $9.6 million is earmarked by specific Members of Congress. 

  • The University of Arkansas Medical Sciences (UAMS) Digital Interventions for Care and Education telemedicine mental health program will receive $1 million with the help of Sen. John Boozman (R-AR).
  • The Loma Linda University Medical Center will receive $434,000 for the Expanding Healthcare Access to the High Desert and Rural Communities of San Bernardino County project. According to Rep. Jay Obernolte (R-CA-23), the funds will be used for the placement of three telehealth sites throughout the region.
  • Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO-06)—with Sens Michael (D-CO) Bennet and John Hickenlooper (D-CO)—helped secure nearly $403,000 for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Center’s Rural eConsult Expansion. The funds will expand the eConsult program to additional Federally Qualified Health Centers in rural Colorado, giving health providers the ability to conduct online consultations with specialists and helping patients receive timely, effective treatment.
  • The GROW Institute Rural Upskilling Through Distance Learning project will receive $300,000 due to Rep. Brittany Pettersen (D-CO-7). The Colorado State University System will use the funding to provide rural upskilling efforts in Custer and Fremont Counties and that will help support job growth and economic development. 
  • Rep. Earl L. “Buddy” Carter (R-GA-01) teamed with Sens Jon Ossoff (D-GA) and Raphael Warnock (D-GA) to secure $213,000 for the Greater Valdosta United Way's 2-1-1 Service, the area's most comprehensive source of information about local resources and services. 
  • Sen Dick Durbin (D-IL) helped secure $750,000 for OSF HealthCare, a not-for-profit Catholic healthcare organization, to expand a rural telemedicine program to underserved rural areas in Champaign, Vermillion, and Douglas Counties.
  • Central Michigan University will be awarded $500,000 to expand health care job training in Bay, Isabella, Midland and Saginaw counties, with a focus on training students in rural communities thanks to Rep. Dan Kildee (D-MI-08).
  • With help from Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), the Mississippi Rural Health Association will receive $731,000 to carry out distance learning and telemedicine activities to improve the rural healthcare workforce. 
  • Rep Tom Kean, Jr. (R-NJ-07) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) secured $127,000 for Abilities Incredible People Training Project by Abilities of Northwest Jersey. The funding will increase training and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities through classroom and distance learning. The project will provide distance learning focusing on soft skills and provide professional growth and pre-employment services. Moreover, it provides funds for training and support to instructors to enhance students’ success in coding, technology, and website development and testing. 
  • Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) helped win $113,000 for the Grant County CyberMill Expansion project in John Day to support more equitable internet access for rural Oregonians. The federal funding will be used for distance learning, telemedicine, and broadband equipment and technology.
  • Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA-14) requested $680,000 for the Waynesburg Workforce Development Program.
  • South Carolina State University's Rural Telehealth Initiative will receive $1 million in support due to Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC-6).
  • Rep. Scott DesJarlais (R-TN-4) requested $1 million for distance learning equipment for Motlow State Community College.
  • Although Rep. Keith Self (R-TX-3) voted against the Consolidated Appropriations Act, he secured $1.75 million for Texas A&M University-Commerce's mental health initiatives through the legislation. 
  • Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX-10) requested nearly $403,000 for distance learning equipment for Austin Community College District's Elgin Campus.
  • Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX-11) requested $170,000 for Texas A&M Health Science Center's Telehealth readiness Project.

Congress directs USDA to allocate at least ten percent of Distance Learning and Telemedicine funding to persistent poverty counties.1

Community Connect Grant Program

USDA's Community Connect program provides financial assistance to eligible applicants that will provide broadband service in rural, economically-challenged communities where service does not exist. H.R. 4366 allocates $20 million for Community Connect in FY24—down from $35 million in FY23.

NTIA's Budget

In March 2023, NTIA requested $117.3 million for FY24. Instead, Congress appropriates $57 million to NTIA through September 30, 2025. The funding comes with the following strings:

  • NTIA will charge other Federal agencies for costs incurred in spectrum management, analysis, operations, and related services.
  • All funds collected from other Federal agencies for telecommunications research will be used to support NTIA's Institute for Telecommunication Sciences.

Congress also appropriates $2 million for maintenance and repair of NTIA facilities. 

This legislation also sets aside $337.4 million in funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) for NTIA salaries, expenses, administration, and oversight for (IIJA) broadband programs as well as the Connecting Minority Communities Pilot and the Broadband Infrastructure Program.

A Final Word About Veterans

The new law also directs the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA) to continue to expand telehealth  availability, including the facilitation of public-private partnerships, to include additional mental health, primary care, and rehabilitation services as a means to deliver care in rural and underserved communities.

Congress encourages the VA to leverage newly gained telehealth capacity to address backlogs for disability exams and healthcare appointments when appropriate. And Congress further directs the VA to continue to implement plans to improve veteran and provider satisfaction, increase awareness of its telehealth program, and enhance adoption of telehealth by veterans and providers.

To meet the growing demand for telehealth or virtual mental healthcare, Congress encourages the VA to provide veterans access to virtual cognitive behavioral therapy—and to provide a report, not later than June 4, on the status of efforts to utilize solutions and partners in the delivery of mental health services virtually and how to make these solutions more accessible to patients.

Congress commends the efforts of private organizations to support veterans and recognizes that they can sometimes provide services, such as counseling and wellness programs, for the families of veterans that the VA cannot. Recognizing that Congress, the VA, and private organizations share the same goal of supporting veterans, Congress directs the VA to build upon its existing partnerships and seek opportunities to establish new ones and provides up to $5 million for this purpose. Congress is specifically interested in partnerships focused on providing mental health care, including the mental health of veterans’ families, and requests a report on the VA's current partnership activities also by June 4. The report will identify types of partnerships and their best practices and the opportunities, barriers, and cost of expanding them. The report will also include an analysis of potential and innovative options to simplify the process for veterans seeking mental health care, such as through modifications to referral requirements, technologies to ease scheduling, and the use of telemedicine.


(1) Any county that has had 20 percent or more of its population living in poverty over the past 30 years.

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
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