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Rural internet program will go on in spite of massive cuts to federal funding

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The Agriculture Appropriations Act, which passed the U.S. House this afternoon, will cut much of the funding for a program designed to bring better broadband internet to underserved rural areas--including many in the North Country.

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The program through the USDA’s Rural Utilities service provided $22.3 million this year to expand high-speed Internet in underserved parts of the country.

The Watertown Daily Times reports that in St. Lawrence and Franklin Counties the company Slic Network Solutions has secured about $33 million in grants to lay about 800 miles of fiber optic cable.

Congressman Bill Owens said in a press release that increased economic development and better health care in rural regions are directly related to the availability of high-speed Internet service. He also said investment in broadband infrastructure is critical to the future success of upstate New York.

Critics say the program has devoted too much money to suburban areas and has been mismanaged.

The bill originally called for zeroing out the funding for the program, but Owens and Congressman Chris Gibson introduced an amendment to restore $6 million in funding to the program, enough to keep it going for another year.

The amendment was added but Owens voted against the bill in the end. A spokesperson said the cuts in funding were “just too deep."

The Hill reports that the bill funds many programs at levels far below what Democrats, including President Obama, had hoped.

The agriculture bill includes funding for rural development, agriculture and all related programs, but it also funds the Food and Drug Administration, as well as a host of other miscellaneous programs.

Funding for the National Arboretum remains intact and garnered criticism earlier this week from The Huffington Post, who noted that large cuts were made to the Women, Infants & Children Nutrition program. Republicans sought further cuts to that program, claiming that the U.S. Department of Agriculture could provide alternative funding, but those were rejected.

The Huffington Post also reported that the new bill cut funding for the FDA's investigation of performance enhancing drugs and provided funding for control of wolf populations.

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