WASHINGTON, April 26, 2017 - The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association wants to make sure congressional lawmakers and the White House know that infrastructure isn’t just roads and bridges. It also includes broadband.

In a conference call with reporters Tuesday, NRECA CEO Jim Matheson and co-op reps from Tennessee, Missouri and Virginia emphasized the need for any infrastructure package to include funding to expand access to high-speed internet in rural areas.

“Broadband is really the lifeblood of the economy in the 21st century,” said Matheson, who was recently named to a Federal Communications Commission Broadband Deployment Advisory Committee. But he added, “Rural America is on the outside looking in. We think that’s bad policy.”

David Callis, CEO of the Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association, said lack of access to broadband – which affects about one of every three rural residents in his state – is “crippling a generation.” Matheson also said that in discussions with White House officials, he has emphasized the importance of the USDA’s Rural Utilities Service’s existing loan program.

“The RUS lends money and actually makes money for the federal government,” he said. “Part of our pitch is, let’s recognize some of the assets that we have.” The NRECA officials also called for streamlined permitting so needed projects can get built faster. The call coincided with NRECA’s annual legislative conference in Washington, which involves visits by more than 2,000 members to their representatives on Capitol Hill.