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Trade agreement, rural broadband-mapping bills advance in Congress

Posted at 3:49 PM, Dec 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-19 20:10:48-05

One day after the impeachment vote on President Trump, Congress got back to regular business Thursday – and advanced two bills of importance to Montana’s rural economy.

The House overwhelmingly approved the refashioned U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, with Republican U.S. Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana voting for it.

“I think it’s a good deal for Montana, with over a thousand agricultural groups across America supporting it,” he told MTN News.

And, the Senate unanimously passed Montana Sen. Jon Tester’s broadband mapping bill, which intends to create more accurate data on where investments are needed to expand rural high-speed Internet service.

Tester said the bill will require better mapping of underserved areas by the Federal Communications Commission, whose data dictates where federal subsidies are spent to expand rural Internet access.

“Right now, they’re getting their information from the (broadband) providers, and there’s no penalty if they screw it up,” he told MTN News. “This is going to help hold the FCC and those providers accountable … Everyone on the (Senate) committee knows the information they give now is a joke.”

The broadband mapping bill must go back to the House for another vote, before advancing to President Trump’s desk for his signature.

Tester, a Democrat, said consumers and independent groups will help provide the data for the new mapping and investment in broadband infrastructure,

The trade agreement, which passed the House Thursday on a 385-41 vote, must go to the Senate for a final vote.

Gianforte said he worked to get provisions in the bill that are good for Montana, such as changing the grading protocol for Montana grain that is exported to Canada.

Right now, it’s rated as a low-priced “feed quality” grain, no matter its actual quality. Under the bill, the exported grain will get a realistic rating, “enabling Montana growers to get a fair price for their grant,” Gianforte said.

“USMCA is a win for Montana and America,” he said. “The trade deal secures access to our top trading partners, creates 176,000 new American jobs and increases ag exports by more than $2 billion. USMCA will build upon our already strong national economy.”