U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have joined a bipartisan group urging the U.S. Department of Agriculture to direct funding for broadband internet expansion to high-need rural areas. 

Collins, a  Republican, and King, an independent, urged the USDA on Tuesday in a jointly written letter to set aside part of a $600 million rural broadband fund for “geographically challenged” areas. They cited a Federal Communications Commission statistic that of the 24 million U.S. households that do not have reliable, affordable, high-speed internet service, 80 percent are in rural areas.

“As you know, rural America is largely at a disadvantage for broadband deployment as a result of low population density, which makes these areas less attractive to the average broadband provider looking for a large return on investment,” the senators wrote. “Certain areas, however, face even bigger obstacles to deployment because of their challenging topography. Mountains and valleys, desert terrain, working forests, islands, remote coastal areas and ribbons of winding roads are central to the identity of the communities we represent, and their beauty is what draws people to visit from around the world. Unfortunately, these same natural features make it far more expensive to construct critical broadband infrastructure.”

In addition to Collins and King, the letter was signed by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; Maggie Hassan, D-N.H.; and Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H.

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