Office of Rural Broadband Act

Sens. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) are out with a Senate companion to the Office of Rural Broadband Act, which would add such an office to the FCC and drew praise last week from telecom trade group NTCA. And speaking of rural broadband, the fiscal year 2019 Department of Agriculture funding bill Senate appropriators advanced before the recess includes $425 million to build on the $600 million already granted for a broadband pilot program.

Source: POLITICO Morning Tech

H.R.800: New Deal Rural Broadband Act of 2017

This bill amends the Rural Electrification Act of 1936 to establish a rural broadband office within the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and authorize new grants and loans for developing broadband in rural, underserved, and tribal areas.

The bill establishes the Office of Rural Broadband Initiatives and the position of Under Secretary for Rural Broadband Initiatives to:

administer all rural broadband-related grant and loan programs currently administered by the Rural Utilities Service,
conduct specified outreach and coordination activities, and
conduct and release to the public an inventory of federal and state property on which a broadband facility could be constructed.

The bill establishes the Breaking Ground on Rural Broadband Program and the Tribal Broadband Assistance Program to provide grants, loans, or loan guarantees for the development of broadband in rural, underserved, and tribal areas.

The bill modifies existing programs to authorize USDA to: (1) provide grants, in addition to loans and loan guarantees permitted under current law, for the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment for broadband service in rural areas; and (2) give priority to multijurisdictional projects for the development of broadband or telecommunications services through the collaboration and participation of multiple stakeholders in the service area.

The bill authorizes federal land management agencies to retain and use certain rental fees for communications activities on federal lands. The agencies may use the fees for specified activities related to administering and managing communications sites.

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